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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Brain regions make decisions in sequences

    (U-WIRE) PITTSBURGH – Imagine standing on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard waiting for one of the Port Authority buses to come. Eventually, buses appear and you are able to make out the numbers from a good distance away to determine which to take.

    Now, imagine the same scenario in the rain.

    At first the numbers are blurry, but as the bus gets closer, you start distinguishing between the numbers.

    It is this process and the parts of the brain associated with it that psychology professor Mark Wheeler and his team have been trying to understand.

    New research has found that separate brain regions work in sequence when making decisions.

    The research is said to be a step closer to mapping the human decision-making process, according to research published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

    “”We are trying to figure out how (the brain) keeps all this information, what is important and more about perceptual identity,”” Wheeler said.

    Wheeler used a functional magnetic resonance imaging to estimate the brain activity indirectly associated with the decision-making process through the circulatory system.

    “”We use a large electromagnet to measure their gradual revelation – generally a 10- to 15-second time scale,”” he said.

    Wheeler shows the subjects a picture of an ordinary object underneath a mask over a period of 16 seconds. The mask partially dissolves every two seconds until they correctly identify the object, he said.

    Previous memory studies with an emphasis on the process rather than the outcome prompted Wheeler to begin researching decision-making brain mechanisms.

    “”It’s like recalling what you ate for dinner last night,”” he said. “”And in the course we’ve found many different regions are involved in the process.””

    In the future, Wheeler’s findings could be applied to research why humans make sub-optimal decisions. Ultimately, this is significant to discovering why people such as substance abusers, alcoholics and gamblers have problems making decisions.

    Still, further research is needed to determine where the final decisions are made.

    “”We have figured out that the neuromechanisms are different from the ‘aha’ moment,”” Wheeler said. “”How they are related though, requires more research.””

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