The brain takes special notice of winning

Oct. 5, 2011 at 6:03 PM
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NEW HAVEN, Conn., Oct. 5 (UPI) -- When a person plays a game -- even a simple one such as rock-paper-scissors, the brain takes notice, in fact, the whole brain is involved, U.S. researchers say.

Lead author Timothy Vickery, a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University, said textbooks teach that sensations of reward and punishment are centered in a region at the center of the brain called the basal ganglia, which contains a network of cells distributing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that reaches into the prefrontal cortex and other areas of the brain.

The theory has been confirmed by previous functional magnetic resonance imaging scans that show high levels of activity in the dopamine network when subjects are presented by desirable or frightening stimuli.

Vickery and Yale University colleagues Marvin Chun, a professor of psychology and neurobiology, and senior author Daeyeol Lee, professor of neurobiology, psychology and researcher for the Kavli Institute of Neuroscience, used multi-voxel pattern analysis to analyze functional magnetic resonance imaging data.

Instead of comparing the overall signal strength corresponding to reward and punishment, the new analysis looked for patterns within patches of brain activity, Vickery said.

The study, published in the journal Neuron, found that wins and losses in games were recognizable from almost all areas of the brain -- not just the reward centers of the brain.

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