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CSHL neuroscientists glimpse how the brain decides what to believe
Date:8/11/2008

It has probably happened to everyone at one time or another. You're driving to a restaurant for the very first time. At a crossroads, you make a turn. You drive for several minutes, and then several minutes more. Nothing in sight. The disturbing thought creeps into your mind: "I should be there by now. Did I make the wrong turn?"

At what point will you make a u-turn and go back? It all depends on how confident you are of the decision you made at the crossroads. If you are following a mere hunch, you may decide to go back. If you are following printed directions issued by the restaurant, you may have much more confidence in your decision and continue along in the same direction.

A sense of what we know -- and don't know

Having a sense of what we know -- and don't know -- is a universal human experience, and has often been assumed to be the hallmark of self-consciousness. But new research by neuroscientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) suggests that the estimation of confidence that underlies decisions may be the product of a very basic kind of information processing in the brain, shared widely across species and not strictly confined to those, like us, that are self-aware.

This remarkable prospect arises from experiments performed on laboratory rats and reported this week in Nature by CSHL Assistant Professor Adam Kepecs, Ph.D., in collaboration with Zachary F. Mainen, Ph.D., CSHL Associate Professor and Group Leader in the Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Cinia near Lisbon, Portugal.

"We all possess some intuitive sense; we know our convictions from our mere hunches," said Kepecs, who heads a lab at CSHL devoted to uncovering neural circuitry underlying decision-making. "This sense of confidence, or lack thereof, is critical to our success, but how it arises in the brain has long been a mystery."

Rats take the smell test

To solve it,
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Contact: Peter Tarr
tarr123@gmail.com
516-367-8455
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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