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 Seeing on the Quick: New Insights into Active Vision in the Brain
15.08.2018 | Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

nachricht New Approach to Treating Chronic Itch
15.08.2018 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

Im Focus: Lining up surprising behaviors of superconductor with one of the world's strongest magnets

Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur

What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

2018 Work Research Conference

25.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

15.08.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Diving robots find Antarctic winter seas exhale surprising amounts of carbon dioxide

15.08.2018 | Earth Sciences

Early opaque universe linked to galaxy scarcity

15.08.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>