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How the brain handles surprise, good and bad
Date:9/19/2007

Whether its a mugger or a friend who jumps out of the bushes, youre still surprised. But your responseto flee or to hugmust be very different. Now, researchers have begun to distinguish the circuitry in the brains emotion center that processes surprise from the circuitry that processes the aversive or reward valence of a stimulus.

C. Daniel Salzman and colleagues published their findings in the September 20, 2007 issue of the journal Neuron, published by Cell Press.

Animals and humans learn to approach and acquire pleasant stimuli and to avoid or defend against aversive ones, wrote the researchers. However, both pleasant and aversive stimuli can elicit arousal and attention, and their salience or intensity increases when they occur by surprise. Thus, adaptive behavior may require that neural circuits compute both stimulus valenceor valueand intensity.

The researchers concentrated their study on the amygdala, known to be the brain center that processes the emotional substance of sensory input and helps shape behavioral response to that input.

In their studies, which used monkeys, the researchers performed two types of experiments as they recorded the electrical activity of neurons in the animals amygdala. In one experiment, they taught the monkeys to associate a pattern on a TV monitor with either the rewarding experience of a sip of water or an unpleasant puff of air to the face. The researchers measured how well the monkeys learned the association by recording how frequently the animals anticipated the water sip or the air puff by, respectively, licking the water spout or blinking. This experiment was intended to establish whether there were specific amygdala neurons activated by rewarding or aversive stimuli.

In the other experiment, the researchers surprised the monkeys by randomly delivering either the water sip or the air puffwhich aimed to establish whether the amygdala harbored specific surprise-processing cir
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Contact: Nancy Wampler
nwampler@cell.com
617-386-2121
Cell Press
Source:Eurekalert

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