Navigation Links
University of Pennsylvania researchers find that the unexpected is a key to human learning

PHILADELPHIA The human brain's sensitivity to unexpected outcomes plays a fundamental role in the ability to adapt and learn new behaviors, according to a new study by a team of psychologists and neuroscientists from the University of Pennsylvania.

Using a computer-based card game and microelectrodes to observe neuronal activity of the brain, the Penn study, published this week in the journal Science, suggests that neurons in the human substantia nigra, or SN, play a central role in reward-based learning, modulating learning based on the discrepancy between the expected and the realized outcome.

"This is the first study to directly record neural activity underlying this learning process in humans, confirming the hypothesized role of the basal ganglia, which includes the SN, in models of reinforcement including learning, addiction and other disorders involving reward-seeking behavior," said lead author Kareem Zaghloul, postdoctoral fellow in neurosurgery at Penn's School off Medicine. "By responding to unexpected financial rewards, these cells encode information that seems to help participants maximize reward in the probabilistic learning task."

Learning, previously studied in animal models, seems to occur when dopaminergic neurons, which drive a larger basal ganglia circuit, are activated in response to unexpected rewards and depressed after the unexpected omission of reward. Put simply, a lucky win seems to be retained better than a probable loss.

Similar to an economic theory, where efficient markets respond to unexpected events and expected events have no effect, we found that the dopaminergic system of the human brain seems to be wired in a similar rational manner -- tuned to learn whenever anything unexpected happens but not when things are predictable," said Michael J. Kahana, senior author and professor of psychology at Penn's School of Arts and Sciences.

Zaghloul worked with Kahana and Gordon Baltuch, associate professor of neurosurgery, in a unique collaboration among departments of psychology, neurosurgery and bioengineering. They used microelectrode recordings obtained during deep brain stimulation surgery of Parkinson's patients to study neuronal activity in the SN, the midbrain structure that plays an important role in movement, as well as reward and addiction. Patients with Parkinson's disease show impaired learning from both positive and negative feedback in cognitive tasks due to the degenerative nature of their disease and the decreased number of dopaminergic neurons.

The recordings were analyzed to determine whether responses were affected by reward expectation. Participants were asked to choose between red and blue decks of cards presented on a computer screen, one of which carried a higher probability of yielding a financial reward than the other. If the draw of a card yielded a reward, a stack of gold coins was displayed along with an audible ring of a cash register and a counter showing accumulated virtual earnings. If the draw did not yield a reward or if no choice was made, the screen turned blank and participants heard a buzz.

"This new way to measure dopaminergic neuron activity has helped us gain a greater understanding of fundamental cognitive activity," said Baltuch, director of the Penn Medicine Center for Functional and Restorative Neurosurgery.


Contact: Jordan Reese
University of Pennsylvania

Related medicine news :

1. NorthShore University HealthSystem Launches Diabetes Outreach Program for Lake County's Medically Underserved
2. Dallas To Host Intensive Norvax University Insurance Agent Sales Training and Web Marketing Conference on March 26
3. University of Maryland Business School Continues Executive Education Leadership With Maryland State Medical Society Partnership
4. Hebrew University scientist develop technique for eliminating reblockage of arteries
5. NorthShore University HealthSystem Only Hospital in the Region to Use Incisionless Procedure to Reduce Weight Regain
6. New Tel Aviv University research links diabetes to cognitive deterioration
7. The Columbia University Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology is Happy to Announce That Charles S. Kleinman, M.D., Will Begin Seeing Patients at Columbia Eastside
8. University of Kansas research finds human emotions hold sway over physical health worldwide
9. Preventing a second stroke is focus of study at Rush University Medical Center
10. Sisters of Charity Health System & University Hospitals Announce New Agreement for Jointly Owned Hospitals
11. University of the Rockies Faculty and Students Travel to China to Share Western Philosophy
Post Your Comments:
(Date:6/26/2016)... (PRWEB) , ... June 26, 2016 , ... On June ... sponsor of the 2016 Cereal Festival and World’s Longest Breakfast Table in Battle Creek, ... of the city’s history as home to some of the world’s leading providers of ...
(Date:6/26/2016)... ... ... blind and certified personal trainer is helping to develop a weight loss fitness plan that ... the two major problems leading the fitness industry today:, , All ... They don’t eliminate all the reasons people quit their exercise program , ...
(Date:6/25/2016)... , ... June 25, 2016 , ... Austin residents seeking ... American College of Mohs Surgery and to Dr. Russell Peckham for medical and surgical ... effective treatment for skin cancer. The selective fellowship in Mohs Micrographic Surgery completed by ...
(Date:6/25/2016)... ... 25, 2016 , ... First Choice Emergency Room , the largest network ... the Medical Director of its new Mesquite-Samuell Farm facility. , “We are pleased ... location,” said Dr. James M. Muzzarelli, Executive Medical Director of First Choice Emergency Room. ...
(Date:6/25/2016)... ... , ... On Friday, June 10, Van Mitchell, Secretary of the Maryland Department ... in recognition of their exemplary accomplishments in worksite health promotion. , The Wellness at ... Wellness Symposium at the BWI Marriott in Linthicum Heights. iHire was one of 42 ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:6/24/2016)...  Collagen Matrix, Inc., ("Collagen Matrix") the driving ... collagen and mineral based medical devices for tissue ... Messer has joined the company as Vice ... growing portfolio of oral surgery, neurosurgery, orthopaedic and ... the Collagen Matrix executive team as an accomplished ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... , June 24, 2016   Bay ... Rehabilitation Network,s Dean Center for Tick Borne ... Medicine and Rehabilitation, MIT Hacking Medicine, University of ... Innovation, today announced the five finalists of ... Lyme disease.  More than 100 scientists, clinicians, researchers, ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... , June 24, 2016 ... of the "Structural Electronics 2015-2025: Applications, Technologies, ... In-Mold Electronics, Smart Skin, ... Photovoltaics Structural electronics involves electronic ... load-bearing, protective structures, replacing dumb structures such as ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: