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Reward linked to image is enough to activate brain's visual cortex
Date:3/21/2013

ocessing the exact stimulus used earlier during conditioning. This result shows that information about rewards is being sent to the visual cortex to indicate which stimuli have been associated with rewards.

Equally surprising, these reward-only trials were found to strengthen the cue-reward associations. This is more or less the equivalent to giving Pavlov's dog an extra treat after a conditioning session and noticing the next day that he salivates twice as much as before. More generally, this result suggests that rewards can be associated with stimuli over longer time scales than previously thought.

Why does the visual cortex react selectively in the absence of a visual stimulus on the retina? One potential explanation is dopamine. "Dopamine is a signalling chemical (neurotransmitter) in nerve cells and plays an important role in processing rewards, motivation, and motor functions. Dopamine's role in reward signalling is the reason some Parkinson's patients fall into gambling addiction after taking dopamine-increasing drugs. Aware of dopamine's role in reward, we re-ran our experiments after giving the monkeys a small dose of a drug that blocks dopamine signalling. We found that the activations in the visual cortex were reduced by the dopamine blocker. What's likely happening here is that a reward signal is being sent to the visual cortex via dopamine," says Professor Vanduffel.

The study used fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans to visualise brain activity. fMRI scans map functional activity in the brain by detecting changes in blood flow. The oxygen content and the amount of blood in a given brain area vary according to the brain activity associated with a given task. In this way, task-specific activity can be tracked.


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Contact: Wim Vanduffel
wim.vanduffel@med.kuleuven.be
32-016-330-666
KU Leuven
Source:Eurekalert

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