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Brain Prefers 'Randomness'

Update Date: Sep 26, 2014 12:31 PM EDT

The brain can temporarily disconnect information about past experience from decision-making circuits, thereby triggering random behavior, a new study has shown. 

The study performed on rats showed that while playing a game for a food reward, rats usually acted strategically, but switched to random behavior when they confronted a particularly unpredictable and hard-to-beat competitor. 

The animals sometimes got stuck in a random-behavior mode, but researchers were able to restore normal behavior by manipulating activity in a specific region of the brain. 

For long scientists speculated that the brain may have a way to switch off the influence of past experiences so that behavior can proceed randomly, but some disagreed. 

"They argue that it's inefficient, and that it would be at odds with what some people call one of the most central operating principles of the brain - to use our past experience and knowledge to optimize behavioral choices," noted lead researcher Janelia lab head Alla Karpova and postdoctoral fellow Gowan Tervo, in the press release.

"We tried to create a setting that would push the need to create behavioral variability and unpredictability to its extreme," she added.

Karpova adds that now that the team has uncovered a mechanism that switches the brain between random and strategic behavior, she would like to understand how those behaviors are controlled in more natural settings. 

 "We normally try to use all of our knowledge to think strategically, but sometimes we still need to explore," she said. 

The study was published in the journal Cell.

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