Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Deciding to stay or go is a deep-seated brain function

07.06.2011
Birds do it. Bees do it. Even little kids picking strawberries do it.

Every creature that forages for food decides at some point that the food source they're working on is no richer than the rest of the patch and that it's time to move on and find something better.

This kind of foraging decision is a fundamental problem that goes far back in evolutionary history and is dealt with by creatures that don't even have proper brains, said Michael Platt, a professor of neurobiology and director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University.

Platt and his colleagues now say they've identified a function in the primate brain that appears to be handling this stay-or-go problem. They have found that the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), an area of the brain known to operate while weighing conflicts, steadily increases its activity during foraging decisions until a threshold level of activity is reached, whereupon the individual decides it's time to move on.

In lab experiments with rhesus macaque monkeys, Platt and postdoctoral fellows Benjamin Hayden and John Pearson put the animals through a series of trials in which they repeatedly had to decide whether to stay with a source that was giving ever-smaller squirts of fruit juice, or move to another, possibly better, source. The animals were merely gazing at a preferred target on a display screen, not moving from one tree to the next, but the decision-making process should be the same, Platt said.

For the other variable in this basic equation, travel time, the researchers added delays when monkeys chose to leave one resource and move to another, simulating short and long travel times.

As the monkeys repeatedly chose to stay with their current source or move to another, the researchers watched a small set of neurons within the anterior cingulate cortex fire with increasing activity for each decision. The rate of firing in this group of neurons grew until a threshold was reached, at which time the monkey immediately decided to move on, Platt said. "It is as if there is a threshold for deciding it's time to leave set in the brain," he said.

When the researchers raised the "travel time" to the next foraging spot in the experiment, it raised the decision-making threshold, Platt said.

This all fits with a 1976 theory by evolutionary ecologist Eric Charnov, called the Marginal Value Theorem, Platt said. It says that all foragers make calculations of reward and cost that tell them to leave a patch when their intake diminishes to the average intake rate for the overall environment. That is, one doesn't pick a blueberry bush until it's bare, only until it looks about as abundant as the bushes on either side of it. Shorter travel time to the next patch means it costs less to move, and foragers should move more easily. This theorem has been found to hold in organisms as diverse as worms, bees, wasps, spiders, fish, birds, seals and even plants, Platt said.

"This is a really fundamental solution to a fundamental problem," Platt said.

Platt said the work also relates to recent papers on the Web-browsing habits of humans. In the case of Internet users, the cost of travel time translates to download speed. The faster the downloads, the quicker browsers are willing to forage elsewhere, Platt said.

They aren't sure yet where the brain's signaling goes after the stay-or-go threshold in the ACC is reached. Platt believes this kind of "integrate-to-threshold" mechanism would be a good way to handle a lot of functions in the brain and may be found in other kinds of systems. This particular threshold in the ACC might also be a way to explain maladaptive behaviors like attention deficit, in which a person decides to move on constantly, or compulsive behavior, in which a person can't seem to move on at all, he said.

The research appears online in Nature Neuroscience, June 5, 2011. It was supported by the National Institutes of Health and a fellowship from the Tourette Syndrome Association.

CITATIONS:

"Neuronal basis of sequential foraging decisions in a patchy environment," Benjamin Y. Hayden, John M. Pearson, Michael L. Platt. Nature Neuroscience, Advance Online, June 5, 2011. doi: 10.1038/nn.2856

"Information foraging," Pirolli, Peter; Card, Stuart Psychological Review, Vol 106(4), Oct 1999, 643-675. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.106.4.643

Karl Leif Bates | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.duke.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Researchers reveal new details on aged brain, Alzheimer's and dementia
21.11.2017 | Allen Institute

nachricht Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development
21.11.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Silicatforschung ISC

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Nanoparticles help with malaria diagnosis – new rapid test in development

The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

From Hannover around the world and to the Mars: LZH delivers laser for ExoMars 2020

21.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Borophene shines alone as 2-D plasmonic material

21.11.2017 | Materials Sciences

Penn study identifies new malaria parasites in wild bonobos

21.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>