"Neurons of that region react to the first meaningful reward, the one 'saying' that the goal has been reached and that there is no more need to explore," Procyk said.
Sanberg said: "If you have damage to that area, you're not going to react well to a reward. If you can't perceive the way the reward should be, you may [engage in] inappropriate behavior. Or you may not know you're getting the reward, or it may not be strong enough for you to adapt the behavior to the reward."
Drug addicts, for one, aren't able to properly handle their perception of rewards, Sanberg said.
The new research, which Sanberg called "elegant," could be useful in the future if scientists can figure out how to "alter" that part of the brain, perhaps through methods like deep-brain stimulation, he said.
Another study, published in the Jan. 23 online issue of PLoS ONE, also sheds light on the mechanisms behind the art of problem-solving.
Joydeep Bhattacharya, of Goldsmiths College in London, England, tracked brain rhythms while volunteers solved verbal problems. Often, the volunteers became mentally blocked when there was an excessive amount of gamma brain rhythm, which suggests that focusing too much on a particular problem might hinder the ability to arrive at a solution.
Learn more about the brain from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
SOURCES: Paul Sanberg, Ph.D., distinguished university professor and director, Center of Excellence for Aging and Brain Repair, University of South Florida College of Medicine, Tampa; Emmanuel Procyk, researcher, University of Lyon, F
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