Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Oops! Researchers Publish New Findings On The Brain's Response To Costly Mistakes

Date:
April 12, 2006
Source:
University of Michigan Health System
Summary:
Whether it's deleting a computer file and then realizing that we can't get it back, or dropping a bag of groceries, we all make mistakes that aren't just annoying, but potentially costly. Now, researchers have looked inside the human brain and captured the instant when someone makes such a mistake. What they've found is interesting by itself, but may also help scientists understand mental health problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD.

It happens to all of us, no matter how hard we try. Whether it's deleting a computer file and realizing a split-second later that we can't get it back, or dropping a bag of groceries, or realizing that our gas tank is nearly empty on a lonely stretch of highway, we all make mistakes that aren't just annoying, but potentially costly.

Now, a team of University of Michigan researchers has looked inside the human brain and captured the instant when someone makes a costly mistake. What they've found is interesting by itself, but may also help scientists understand mental health problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD.

In general, the U-M scientists found that a particular part of the brain called the rostral anterior cingulate cortex, or rACC, becomes much more active when a person realizes he or she has made an error that carries consequences -- for instance, losing money.

By contrast, the same area of the brain doesn't show the same level of activity when the mistake doesn't carry a penalty, or even when a correct action carries a reward. The rACC is thought to be involved with emotional responses, and scientists had suspected it might also be involved in response to costly errors. But this is the first brain-imaging study to test that idea.

Interestingly, the U-M team had previously shown that the rACC area became much more active in response to a no-penalty error in the brains of a small group of OCD patients, compared to people without the condition. OCD is often characterized by an untoward anxiety or fear about errors or failures in certain aspects of everyday life, with repetitive patterns of behavior to ward off or prevent such events.

The new research, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, involved 12 healthy adults who had their brains scanned using a powerful functional MRI (fMRI) imaging machine, while they were asked to respond to a series of 360 visual-based tests.

Some of the tests carried a monetary reward between 25 cents and $2, while others carried penalties of the same size. Still others carried no reward or penalty. The participants were told they had a $10 "credit" to begin, and that they would receive real cash depending on their balance at the end.

The participants had to correctly, and within a deadline of a few hundred milliseconds, press a button corresponding to one of two alphabetic letter pairs. They were instructed to determine which letter was the odd one out in a series of other letters. Some of the letter sequences were more confusing than others. They received immediate feedback telling them if they were wrong or too late in responding.

"In general, the response to a mistake that cost them money was greater than the response to other mistakes, and the involvement of the rACC suggests the importance of emotions in decision and performance-monitoring processes," says Stephan Taylor, M.D., an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the U-M Medical School and lead author of the new paper. "It's very interesting to us that the same part of the brain that responded in our OCD study on regular, no-cost errors also responded in healthy individuals when we made the error count more."

The new research confirms previous U-M studies using a different brain-activity monitoring technique and led by senior author William Gehring, Ph.D., Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Psychology in the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and director of the U-M Human Brain Electrophysiology Laboratory.

For more than a decade, Gehring has used a measuring tool known as the event-related potential or ERP to study brain responses to various situations, assessing changes in electrical activity through sensors arranged on a mesh cap that is placed on the head. The method is similar to techniques used to study the brains of people with epilepsy or sleep problems, but the electrical signal from the brain is processed in a different way. In prior studies, Gehring and his colleagues observed a distinct brain electrical response to errors, dubbing it ERN for "error-related negativity."

Using ERP, Gehring and his colleagues localized the brain's response to errors to the vicinity of the rACC, a larger region of the brain known as the medial frontal cortex. Working with Joe Himle, Ph.D., and Laura Nisenson, Ph.D., from the U-M Anxiety Disorders Program in the Department of Psychiatry, he performed a study in OCD patients that showed heightened response to errors in the same area.

Now, the fMRI technique has allowed the researchers to localize this response even more precisely. The fMRI scanner uses magnetic fields to create images based on blood flow, and can detect tiny changes in the rate of blood flow in and out of various areas of the brain. The more blood flowing to a specific area, the more active the cells in that area are -- and therefore, the more processing that is going on in those brain cells.

"We hypothesized that the brain response to errors was involved in an emotional reaction to making an error," says Gehring. "Our new fMRI result not only confirms this, but it also allows us to pinpoint the area in the brain that shows the exaggerated error response."

Taylor, who treats patients with psychiatric disorders, says the next step is to study patients using the same test as was used in healthy participants. The researchers also hope to study the impact of cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of "talk therapy", on OCD patients' response to errors. They are currently recruiting participants for that study.

"It appears to us so far that OCD patients may have a hyperactive response to making errors, with increased worry and concern about having done something wrong," he says. "We hope that this kind of research will help us get a handle on this condition and see which normal brain circuits have gone awry in people with OCD." The new finding does not have immediate implications for the treatment of OCD, Taylor cautions, but further research could help lead to more tailored treatment designed for each patient. The research team hopes to study people with depression as well.

The U-M fMRI study is currently recruiting participants who have OCD and people without OCD to act as comparisons. For more information, visit the U-M Engage clinical trials web site at www.med.umich.edu and search for keyword "OCD."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Michigan Health System. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Michigan Health System. "Oops! Researchers Publish New Findings On The Brain's Response To Costly Mistakes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 April 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060412093300.htm>.
University of Michigan Health System. (2006, April 12). Oops! Researchers Publish New Findings On The Brain's Response To Costly Mistakes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060412093300.htm
University of Michigan Health System. "Oops! Researchers Publish New Findings On The Brain's Response To Costly Mistakes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/04/060412093300.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Pregnancy Spacing Could Have Big Impact On Autism Risks

Pregnancy Spacing Could Have Big Impact On Autism Risks

Newsy (Oct. 1, 2014) A new study says children born less than one year and more than five years after a sibling can have an increased risk for autism. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stopping School Violence

Stopping School Violence

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) A trauma doctor steps out of the hospital and into the classroom to teach kids how to calmly solve conflicts, avoiding a trip to the ER. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pineal Cysts: Debilitating Pain

Pineal Cysts: Debilitating Pain

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) A tiny cyst in the brain that can cause debilitating symptoms like chronic headaches and insomnia, and the doctor who performs the delicate surgery to remove them. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com
Burning Away Brain Tumors

Burning Away Brain Tumors

Ivanhoe (Oct. 1, 2014) Doctors are 'cooking' brain tumors. Hear how this new laser-heat procedure cuts down on recovery time. Video provided by Ivanhoe
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins