How zombies work

In the latest bit of cool, but mostly frivolous, science – a Harvard Psychiatrist has explained how zombies work. Now we’ve got mathematical modeling of the zombie outbreak and an understanding of their headspace.

The Frontal Lobe

This part of the brain is involved with “executive functioning” – enabling us to think carefully and solve problems in an abstract way. Clearly, there’s not much going on there if you have the misfortune of being afflicted with living deadness. But we do know that zombies can see us and sense us. Schlozman concludes that zombies possess just enough frontal lobe activity to “listen” to the thalamus, through which sensory input is processed.

But the frontal lobe function most relevant to understanding zombie behavior is the control of “impulsivity”-the general term for when you do something and, if you had two more seconds, you might not have done it. For instance, if in a fit of rage you have the sudden urge to punch your boss in the face, the frontal lobe intervenes and allows you to consider why that might be a bad idea.

The Oatmeal has a nice graphical warning about the coming zombie apocalypse. It’ll be eye-opening. But it might contain some words you’ll find offensive – so be warned.

7 Comments How zombies work

  1. Lee Shelton

    True zombies are dead and have no beating heart. How can muscles — much less the brain — function at any level without the flow of blood? That's why I was always more partial to the living "zombies" of 28 Days Later. They're more realistic, therefore more frightening.

    Of course, in the case of horror-comedies like Zombieland, I'm willing to overlook such blatant disregard for medical science. :)

  2. Phoebe

    There's only one way to know definitively how much frontal lobe activity a zombie has – a frontal assessment battery, which includes things such as 'interpret a proverb' – I imagine it would probably would go something like this:
    Me: Interpret this Mr Zombie: 'a rolling stone gathers no moss'
    Zombie: BRAINS!

    Given that zombies apparently have very little fear or emotion (they just seem to plough on into very sticky situations), I reckon there's some serious damage to their amygdala and limbic system too. But yes, I would have to agree with Lee – with no beating heart, there's some serious tissue hypoxia going on – they'd lose consciousness pretty quickly – and when you have the same GCS as my door knob there's not much frontal lobe activity going on. But, there's obviously other factors when it comes to the living dead that come into play – maybe 'Zombie medicine' could be a new specialty… we should write to the AMA and see what they think…

  3. Nathan

    Did you go to the link Phoebe? The good doctor considers the impact on four or five different parts of the brain.

    Sucks if your proverb is reconciled with the answer "brains" and the zombie is passed as fit. That's how outbreaks start…

  4. Lee Shelton

    "Constipated" is an understatement. The lack of blood flow would seriously impair the entire digestive system. Assuming a zombie would even have the capability to attack and eat a person, the "food" would just sit there in the stomach without being broken down. An adult zombie could probably only consume most of one adult, maybe two small children. After that, the zombie would be too full to eat any more, and quite possibly too weighed down to pose much more of a threat. It would be the bulimic zombies you'd have to watch out for.

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