Choosing where to look - and changing your mind

January 25, 2005

Where we choose to look is fundamental to our interactions with other human beings. Although on some occasions we might wish to look someone straight in the eye, at other times we decide to avert gaze and look away. Sometimes the choice isn't straightforward, and we have to select between conflicting actions. Even if we do make a choice, we might subsequently change our mind and select an alternative response before it's too late.

In a study that casts light on the process of choosing between alternative eye movements, researchers at Imperial College London have demonstrated that the medial frontal cortex, an area of the brain previously implicated in controlling actions and making choices, responds differently to choosing freely between actions and changing from one choice to select another one.

The new work utilizes functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to assess areas of neuronal activity in precise areas of the brain during different tasks related to choice. The researchers asked healthy volunteers in a magnetic resonance scanner to freely choose where to look or, alternatively, told them where to shift their eyes. On some occasions, the volunteers were asked to change their plan, regardless of whether they had made it themselves or had been instructed where to look.

Using this new technique, Dr. Husain and his colleagues found that distinct areas within the medial frontal cortex were involved in these functions. One part of medial frontal cortex was active when people freely made a choice, whereas a different part responded to situations of conflict, i.e., when one plan had to be quickly discarded in favor of an alternative one.

These findings indicate that free choice and conflict are represented separately - but in neighboring areas - within the brain. They may help to explain why people who have damage to this part of the brain often encounter difficulty in both initiating actions and in making difficult choices.
Parashkev Nachev, Geraint Rees, Andrew Parton, Christopher Kennard, and Masud Husain: "Volition and Conflict in Human Medial Frontal Cortex"

The other members of the research team include Parashkev Nachev and Christopher Kennard of Imperial College London; Geraint Rees of University College London; and Andrew Parton and Masud Husain of Imperial College London and University College London. This work was funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Publishing in Current Biology, Volume 15, Number 2, January 26, 2005, pages 122-128.

Cell Press

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to