One of the smallest parts of the brain is getting a second look after new research suggests it plays a crucial role in decision making.
A University of British Columbia study published in Nature Neuroscience says the lateral habenula, a region of the brain linked to depression and avoidance behaviors, has been largely misunderstood and may be integral in cost-benefit decisions.
“These findings clarify the brain processes involved in the important decisions that we make on a daily basis, from choosing between job offers to deciding which house or car to buy,” says Prof. Stan Floresco of UBC’s Dept. of Psychology and Brain Research Centre (BRC). “It also suggests that the scientific community has misunderstood the true functioning of this mysterious, but important, region of the brain.”
In the study, scientists trained lab rats to choose between a consistent small reward (one food pellet) or a potentially larger reward (four food pellets) that appeared sporadically. Like humans, the rats tended to choose larger rewards when costs — in this case, the amount of time they had to wait before receiving food-were low and preferred smaller rewards when such risks were higher.
Beedie Savage – President of Quantum Units Education