The study finds brain areas involved in finding information about bad possibilities

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Ilya Monosov, Ph.D., shows data on brain activity obtained from monkeys as they face uncertainty. Monosov and colleagues at the University of Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis. Louis have identified the brain regions involved in choosing whether to know if a bad event is about to happen. Credit: University of Washington Photographic Services

The term “doomscrolling” describes the act of endlessly scrolling through bad news on social media and reading all the disturbing annoyances that appear, a habit that unfortunately seems to have become commonplace during the COVID- pandemic. 19.

The biology of our brains can play a role. Researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis. Louis have identified specific areas and cells in the that become active when an individual is faced with the option of learning or hiding information about an unwanted aversive event, the individual probably does not have the power to prevent.

The findings, published on June 11 a Neuron, could shed light on the processes underlying psychiatric conditions such as and anxiety, not to mention how we can all cope with the flood of information that is a feature of modern life.

“People’s brains are not well equipped to cope with the information age,” said lead author Ilya Monosov, PhD, associate professor of neuroscience, neurosurgery and biomedical engineering. “People are checking, checking, checking if there’s news constantly, and some of that checking is totally useless. Our modern lifestyles could re-sculpt the circuits in our brain that have evolved over millions of years. to help us survive in an uncertain and ever – changing world environment. “

In 2019, student , Members of Monosov Laboratory, J. Kael White, Ph.D., then a graduate student, and senior scientist Ethan S. Bromberg-Martin, Ph.D., identified two they participate in tracking uncertainty about positively anticipated events, such as rewards. The activity in these areas motivated the monkeys to find information about good things that could happen.

But it was unclear whether the circuits themselves were involved in seeking information about negatively anticipated events, such as punishments. After all, most people want to know if, for example, a bet on a horse race is likely to pay off. Not so for bad news.

“At the clinic, when you give some patients a chance to get a genetic test to find out if they have, for example, Huntington’s disease, some people will go ahead and get the test as soon as they can, while others will refuse to test it until symptoms occur, “Monosov said. “Clinicians see information-seeking behavior in some people and fear behavior in others.”

To find the neural circuits involved in the decision to seek information about unwanted possibilities, first author Ahmad Jezzini, Ph.D., and Monosov taught two monkeys to recognize when something unpleasant could be directed. They trained the monkeys to recognize symbols that indicated they might be about to get an irritating puff of air in their face. For example, the monkeys were first shown a symbol telling them that a blow might come but with varying degrees of certainty. A few seconds after the first symbol was displayed, a second symbol was displayed that resolved the uncertainty of the animals. He told the monkeys that the puff was definitely coming or not.

The researchers measured whether the animals wanted to know what would happen if they observed the second signal or looked away or, in separate experiments, let the monkeys choose between different symbols and their results.

Like people, the two monkeys had different attitudes toward bad news: one wanted to know; the other preferred not to. The difference in their attitudes towards it caught my eye because they had the same mind when it came to good news. When they were given the option to find out if they were about to receive something they liked (a drop of juice), they both constantly decided to find out.

“We have found that attitudes toward seeking information about negative events can go both ways, even among animals that have the same attitude about positive rewarding events,” said Jezzini, who is a neuroscience instructor. “For us, this was a sign that the two attitudes may be guided by different neural processes.”

Accurately measuring neuronal activity in the brain while monkeys faced these decisions, the researchers identified a brain area, the , which separately encodes information about attitudes toward good and bad possibilities. They found a second area of ​​the brain, the , which contains individual cells whose activity reflects the general attitudes of the monkeys: yes to obtain information about the good or bad possibilities vs. yes for intelligences only about good possibilities.

Understanding the the underlying uncertainty is a step toward better therapies for people with conditions such as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which involve the inability to tolerate uncertainty.

“We started this study because we wanted to know how the brain encodes our desire to know what our future holds,” Monosov said. “We live in a world where our brains did not evolve. The constant availability of information is a new challenge for us. I think understanding the mechanisms of research is quite important for society and for mental health at the population level. ”


Anxiety cell roots have been identified


More information:
Ahmad Jezzini et al, A prefrontal network integrates preferences for advanced information on uncertain rewards and punishments. Neuron (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.neuron.2021.05.013

Citation: A study finds brain areas involved in the search for information on bad possibilities (2021, June 11) retrieved June 11, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-06-brain-areas- involved-bad-possilities.html

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