Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Complex brain functions help adapt to new situations and stimuli

Date:
May 1, 2010
Source:
Brown University
Summary:
A new study provides intriguing insight into the way that humans approach novel situations. The research reveals neural mechanisms that underlie our remarkable ability to discover abstract cognitive relationships when dealing with new problems.

A new study provides intriguing insight into the way that humans approach novel situations. The research reveals neural mechanisms that underlie our remarkable ability to discover abstract cognitive relationships when dealing with new problems.

Related Articles


Scientists have long known that the brain's frontal cortex supports concrete rule learning. Less clear is how the brain processes more complex and unfamiliar knowledge. In a paper published in the journal Neuron, a team of researchers at Brown University and the University of California-Berkeley tested whether the frontal lobe has the ability to process more abstract knowledge and how this ability could help navigate new situations and stimuli.

The researchers believed that the brain's frontal cortex could be organized in a front-to-back hierarchy in which the neurons at the front of the frontal cortex have the ability to process more progressively abstract knowledge. This part of the brain, therefore, would be more important in planning and deciding what to do when a person is faced with an unfamiliar problem. To test this hypothesis, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study participants during two unfamiliar tasks, one with concrete rules and the other with more abstract rules.

"The average person can easily determine how to open a door by pulling a rope rather than turning a knob, even if they have not seen the rope handle previously," said David Badre, assistant professor of cognitive and linguistic sciences at Brown. "We wanted to investigate how the brain achieves this remarkable flexibility and test whether we use generalized forms of past knowledge to solve current problems."

The researchers found that the activity in an anterior part of the frontal cortex predicted individual differences in participants' success at discovering abstract relationships. Based on their observations, the researchers suggest that when faced with a new situation, people may search for relationships between context and action that involve multiple levels of abstraction simultaneously. This capability could underlie the ability to adapt behaviors based on the generalization of separate, past learning.

"How we face new problems and the reasoning, decision-making and action that we take in an uncertain situation may have more to do with the functional organization of the frontal cortex than we previously realized," said Badre.

The National Institutes of Health provided funding for the study.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. David Badre, Andrew S. Kayser, Mark D'Esposito. Frontal Cortex and the Discovery of Abstract Action Rules. Neuron, Volume 66, Issue 2, 315-326, 29 April 2010 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.03.025

Cite This Page:

Brown University. "Complex brain functions help adapt to new situations and stimuli." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 May 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100428142332.htm>.
Brown University. (2010, May 1). Complex brain functions help adapt to new situations and stimuli. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100428142332.htm
Brown University. "Complex brain functions help adapt to new situations and stimuli." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100428142332.htm (accessed November 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) — Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) — Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Newsy (Nov. 20, 2014) — Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found the more complex your job is, the sharper your cognitive skills will likely be as you age. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
100-Year-Old Woman Sees Ocean for First Time

100-Year-Old Woman Sees Ocean for First Time

AP (Nov. 20, 2014) — Ruby Holt spent most of her 100 years on a farm in rural Tennessee, picking cotton and raising four children. She saw the ocean for the first time thanks to her assisted living center and a group that grants wishes to the elderly. (Nov. 20) Video provided by AP
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