Decision-Making Circuits Trigger Random Behavior

First Posted: Sep 26, 2014 02:10 PM EDT

The brain is capable of great concentration and focus. However, recent findings published in the journal Cell show that it's also able to temporarily disconnection from the past via decision-making circuits by triggering random behavior.

A study performed on rats showed that when the animals were playing a game to potentially gain food as a reward, they usually acted strategically but sometimes switched to random behavior if confronted via a particular unpredictable or hard-to-beat competitor.

"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," said lead study author Janelia lab head Alla Karpova and postdoctoral fellow Gowan Tervo, in a news release. "We tried to create a setting that would push the need to create behavioral variability and unpredictability to its extreme."

Researchers found that animals were sometimes stuck doing certain random behaviors. However, they were able to restore their normal behaviors when manipulating activity via a specific region of the brain. The team actually uncovered a mechanism that switches the brain between random and strategic behavior, which helps explain how these behaviors can be controlled in a more natural setting.

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

In future studies, researchers noted that they hope to understand the differences between the settings in more natural environments.

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