The Science of Making Up Your Mind

A study published by the University of British Columbia claims that the region of the brain that determines avoidance behavior and is supposed to be linked to depression has new information, and is getting another round of research from experts in the field, after a study showed that there was a significant amount of decision making coming from the area. The study was published in Nature Neuroscience and the area of the brain that so many are excited about is called the lateral habenula. This part may play a much greater role in decision making that was previously thought. “These findings clarify the brain processes involved in the important decisions that we make on a daily basis, from choosing between job offers to deciding which house or car to buy,” said Stan Florensco, Professor of Psychology at the University Columbia.

downloadThe findings come from UBC’s Brain Research Center. It suggests that researchers have failed to understand the real function of this part of the brain. Scientists were using rats to research this area, and they trained them to choose between a reward of a food pellet that appeared regularly or a reward of four pellets that appeared only once in a while. The rats showed the same behavior as humans by choosing the larger rewards as long as the risk was low. The scientists were able to disable the lateral habenula, and as a result the rats in the study were not able to choose what was best for them any longer. This leads scientists to believe that the part of the brain that was disabled was the part that helped them to make the best decision for them.

“Deep brain stimulation — which is thought to inactivate the lateral habenula — has been reported to improve depressive symptoms in humans,” said Florensco. “But our findings suggest these improvements may not be because patients feel happier. They may simply no longer care as much about what is making them feel depressed.” Florensco and Colin Stopper conducted the investigation, but say more research is needed in order to find out just how much of the brain is involved in the decision process. They say that advances in this area could help with psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and depression.

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