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Specific Brain Region Governs Problem-Solving Skills
Date:1/23/2008

Monkey research pinpoints reward center, which can go awry

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 23 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that a specific part of the brain handles what might be called the "I've got it!" moments.

The research could lead scientists closer to more effective treatments for a variety of mental illnesses. Any new understanding of a brain region is helpful because it provides insight into "what's related to a physical problem versus a psychological issue," said Paul Sanberg, director of the University of South Florida College of Medicine's Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair.

At issue is the brain's ability to learn that it's discovered the right approach to a challenge, such as picking the right answer on a multiple-choice test.

"In general, when one tries to solve a problem one has to be sure to recognize that the solution has been found and that it is no longer needed to pursue the search for an appropriate response," said study co-author Emmanuel Procyk, a researcher at the University of Lyon in France.

For example, he said, "when you face new software, you usually try menus and options with a specific goal in mind. By trying and making errors, you eliminate inappropriate selections, but once you find what you expected to produce, you detect and feel success, and consequently store this fruitful behavior for further use."

In the new study, Procyk and his colleagues placed two monkeys in front of computer touch screens and let them choose which target to press. The monkeys learned that some targets would give them a reward of juice.

As the monkeys took part in the experiment, researchers recorded electrical activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region connected to emotion, decision-making and the art of anticipating what will happen next.

The study findings are published in the Jan. 24 issue of the journal Neuron.

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