Posts Tagged Regions Of The Brain

Why We Can’t Live in the Moment


Why We Can't Live in the MomentThe sought-after ideal of “living in the moment” may be impossible, according to research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh, which pinpoints an area of the brain responsible for using past decisions and outcomes to guide future behavior.

The study analyzes signals associated with metacognition, which is a person’s ability to monitor and control cognition — a term described by the researchers as “thinking about thinking.”

“The brain has to keep track of decisions and the outcomes they produce,” said Marc Sommer, Ph.D., who did his research for the study as a University of Pittsburgh neuroscience faculty member and is now on the faculty at Duke University. “You need that continuity of thought. We are constantly keeping decisions in mind as we move through life, thinking about other things.”

Sommer said the researchers “guessed it was analogous to working memory,” which led them to predict that neuronal correlates of metacognition resided in the same brain areas responsible for cognition, including the frontal cortex, a part of the brain linked with personality expression, decision making, and social behavior.

The research team studied single neurons in three frontal cortical regions of the brain: The frontal eye field, associated with visual attention and eye movements; the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for motor planning, organization, and regulation; and the supplementary eye field (SEF), which is involved in the planning and control of saccadic eye movements, which are the extremely fast movements of the eye that allow it to continually refocus on an object.

Study participants were asked to perform a visual decision-making task that involved random flashing lights and a dominant light on a cardboard square. They were asked to remember and pinpoint where the dominant light appeared, guessing whether they were correct. The researchers found that while neural activity correlated with decisions and guesses in all three brain areas, the metacognitive activity that linked decisions to bets resided exclusively in the SEF.

“The SEF is a complex area linked with motivational aspects of behavior,” said Sommer. “If we think we’re going to receive something good, neuronal activity tends to be high in SEF. People want good things in life, and to keep getting those good things, they have to compare what’s going on now versus the decisions made in the past.”

Sommer said he sees his research as one step in a systematic process of working toward a better understanding of consciousness. By studying metacognition, he says, he reduces the big problem of studying a “train of thought” into a simpler component: Examining how one cognitive process influences another.

“Why aren’t our thoughts independent of each other? Why don’t we just live in the moment? For a healthy person, it’s impossible to live in the moment. It’s a nice thing to say in terms of seizing the day and enjoying life, but our inner lives and experiences are much richer than that.”

The scientist said that patients with mental disorders have not been tested on these tasks, but added he is interested to see how SEF and other brain areas might be disrupted in people with these disorders.

“With schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease, there is a fracturing of the thought process,” he said. “It is constantly disrupted, and despite trying to keep a thought going, one is distracted very easily. Patients with these disorders have trouble sustaining a memory of past decisions to guide later behavior, suggesting a problem with metacognition.”

The study was published in the  journal Neuron.

Source: University of Pittsburgh

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Memory Connections Change from Childhood to Adulthood


Memory Connections Change from Childhood to AdulthoodIn a new area of study, researchers explore how brain mechanisms for memory retrieval differ between adults and children.

Neuroscientists from Wayne State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered that while the memory systems are the same in many ways, the aging process appears to impart important differences in how we learn and respond to education.

Noa Ofen, Ph.D., an assistant professor in WSU’s Institute of Gerontology and Department of Pediatrics, says that cognitive ability, including the ability to learn and remember new information, dramatically changes between childhood and adulthood.

This ability parallels with dramatic changes that occur in the structure and function of the brain during these periods.

In the study, Ofen and her collaborative team tested the development of neural foundations of memory from childhood to young adulthood.

Researchers did this by exposing participants to pictures of scenes and then showing them the same scenes mixed with new ones. They then and asked them to judge whether each picture was presented earlier.

Participants made retrieval judgments while researchers collected images of their brains with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Using this method, the researchers were able to see how the brain remembers. “Our results suggest that cortical regions related to attentional or strategic control show the greatest developmental changes for memory retrieval,” said Ofen.

This finding suggests that older participants use the cortical regions of the brain to retrieve past memories more so than younger participants.

“We were interested to see whether there are changes in the connectivity of regions in the brain that support memory retrieval,” Ofen added.

“We found changes in connectivity of memory-related regions. In particular, the developmental change in connectivity between regions was profound even without a developmental change in the recruitment of those regions, suggesting that functional brain connectivity is an important aspect of developmental changes in the brain.”

Researchers say this study is unique as it is the first time that the development of connectivity within memory systems in the brain has been tested.

Findings suggest the brain continues to rearrange connections to achieve adult-like performance during development.

Future studies by Ofen and her research team will focus on modeling brain network connectivity, and applying these methods to study abnormal brain development.

The team’s findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: Wayne State University

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