Scientists Find the Mechanism by Which Brain Cells Make Inferential Decisions

A new research by UK Research and Innovation reveals about underling mechanism behind brain cells used in making inferences from decisions based on past independent experiences. Researchers identified how brain cells work simultaneously to join up memories of separate experiences, assisting in making educated guesses in everyday life. Research findings were published in journal Cell.

Speculations were demonstrated in both mouse and human models and their brain activity was assessed relatively. This process of inferential decision making is found to occur in a brain region called the hippocampus.

The study findings also demonstrate that while resting or sleeping, brain cells in hippocampus considerably links the past distinct memories. The research was sponsored by the Medical Research Council (MRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and Wellcome, and was carried out at the MRC Brain Network Dynamics Unit at the University of Oxford, by Dr Helen Barron and Dr David Dupret.

Decision making is crucial for adaptability and survival in everyday life and past experiences profoundly affect the current decisions. Yet these experiences are also used to infer consequences in novel choices. These inferential decisions are presumed to interlink different regions of brain. But the underlying exact mechanism is not clear. The hippocampus is a small, curved structure residing in brain, involved in the formation of new memories as well as linked with learning and emotions.

Dr Barron explained, “In everyday life we often infer connections or relationships between different things we see or hear. So even when we don’t know the full story, we can make an educated guess by joining-the-dots. For example, I’m looking for my friend Sam. Someone tells me that Ben is in the library. I know that Sam and Ben go everywhere together, so I guess that Sam is in the library too. Although this process is crucial to everyday life, until now, we didn’t know how the cells in our brains are able to form links between separate experiences.”

Source: McGill University

The study was a multi-day cross-species study where scientists used two models to confirm their speculations; humans and mice to elucidate the functionality, structure, and neurons mechanism linked with computation underlying inferential decisions.

Researchers asked human subjects to play virtual games, where hearing a sound like running water would signal sound and wining money were not directly connected, yet their past memory helped them in making educated guess to win the money.

The same experimental approach was replicated in mice model just by playing a sound before showing a picture made from LED lights. Similarly, mice models looked for rewards by making inferences from past experiences. Like humans, the mice began to connect sound with the reward.

The results revealed that during successful inference, human brain uses a hippocampus prospective code to predict a past learning experiences. Therefore, study concludes that inferential decisions engage the hippocampus in both humans and mice.

These findings will go a long way in the science world to understand how the human and animal brain works.

Source: Elearning

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