The Brain’s “Aha!” Spot

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by: Roger Dooley

Long recognized psychological phenomena and various aspects of human behavior are being localized in the brain daily, it seems, and the latest to be studied is discovery, often referred to as an “Aha!” or “Eureka!” moment. This is the turning point when one realizes that one has found what one is looking for or has solved a vexing problem.

Before we get carried away with spotting the next Archimedes or Einstein, caution is in order – researchers based their conclusions on studying Rhesus monkeys, a species not often known for deep reflection or scientific discovery.

The experimenters let the monkeys choose targets on a computer screen while monitoring their brain activity. One of the targets produced a juice reward.

During the trials, the researchers recorded the electrical activity of hundreds of neurons in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a brain region known to be active in adaptive behaviors such as the shift between exploring and exploiting.

In their analysis, the researchers measured the electrophysiological activity of cells during four different types of feedback–incorrect choices, first reward, repetition of the reward, and the ending of a trial by breaking fixation on the targets.

Analyzing the results, the researchers concluded that “Our data show that ACC discriminates between different types of feedback, allowing appropriate behavioral adaptations.”

Emmanuel Procyk and colleagues published their findings in the January 24, 2008, issue of the journal Neuron, published by Cell Press. [From ScienceDaily – Researchers Identify Brain’s ‘Eureka’ Circuitry]

Whether there is a neuromarketing application for this finding isn’t clear. The work would have to be extended to humans, of course, to see if similar brain activity was observed across a range of subjects. And whether the simplicity of a juice reward can be extrapolated the the more complex decision-making processes that marketers are involved with remains to be seen. Still, it’s intriguing to think that researchers may have observed the interesting “Aha!” phenomenon – something that most of us have experienced in our lives.

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