Brain anticipates events to learn routines
A new study at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston helps explain why practice makes perfect. Baylor researchers found that neurons in the visual cortex, the part of the brain responsible for vision, were more active when study monkeys anticipated the occurrence of predictable events. The results of the study were published in the Oct. 10 issue of Nature. “We really dont have a great understanding of what changes in the brain when we practice things,” said Dr. Geoffrey M. Ghose, first author of the paper and an assistant professor of neuroscience at Baylor. “These results show that as we practice and anticipate which events are going to happen, the brain is also preparing itself.”
Dr. John H. R. Maunsell, a professor of neuroscience at Baylor and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, is the studys lead author.
Researchers at Baylor trained two macaque monkeys to pay attention to changes at a specific location of a display screen. They were rewarded with juice if they pulled a lever when the change occurred. The activity of neurons in the visual cortex was measured during the experiment.
“Activity in the neurons went up when the event was likely to happen, and went down when it was unlikely to happen,” Ghose said. Based on what they see, primates develop expectations of what might happen next. For example, a baseball player anticipates that the pitcher will throw the ball towards him after he winds up, because he has seen him perform this task countless times before. People in every day life also use this function of their brain each time they do something routine, like driving a car or crossing the street.
“Our study gives us some clues of how we make use of our experiences to change specific signals in the brain,” Ghose said. “The results are a window into how we represent time. They tell us how accurately we know when things are going to happen and how well we can prepare ourselves.”
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