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Researchers Study How Rats and Humans Process Mistakes

Update Date: Oct 21, 2013 03:53 PM EDT

In order to survive, animals must be able to adapt to certain changes and learn from mistakes. If animals never process mistakes, they would routinely put themselves in danger. In a new study, researchers were interested in examining how humans and rodents processed mistakes and learned from them. The research team from Brown University and Yale University observed the electrical activity in the brain that is responsible.

For this study, the researchers enlisted humans and rodents and put them through a series of trials. The tests were simple time estimation tasks. The researchers observed how humans and rodents adapted to their mistakes. The team measured external brain waves, frequency of the brain waves and individual neurons before and after learning from the mistake.

The team reported that every time a mistake was made, the electrode recordings revealed that the medial frontal cortex (MFC) had low-frequency brain wave activity. This frequency then appeared to be responsible for the synchronization of neurons in the motor cortex, which then led to an improvement on the task the second time around. The researchers double checked the role of the MFC by using a drug to block MFC activity in rat models. They found that these rats did not learn from the mistakes and showed no improvements.

"These findings suggest that neuronal activity in the MFC encodes information that is involved in monitoring performance and could influence the control of response adjustments by the motor cortex," wrote the authors. "Low-frequency oscillations facilitate synchronization among brain networks for representing and exerting adaptive control, including top-down regulation of behavior in the mammalian brain."

James Cavanagh, a co-lead author of the paper, added, "With this rat model of adaptive control, we are now able to examine if novel drugs or other treatment procedures boost the integrity of this system. This may have clear translational potential for treating psychiatric diseases such as obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia."

The researchers hope that by studying this system more in depth, they could uncover how adaptive control becomes jeopardized in people with psychiatric diseases. The study was published in Nature Neuroscience

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