A study led by Zachary Mainen, Director of the Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme, and published today (March 28th) in the scientific journal, Neuron, reports that when rats were challenged with a series of perceptual decision problems, their performance was just as good when they decided rapidly as when they took a much longer time to respond. Despite being encouraged to slow down and try harder, the subjects of this study achieved their maximum performance in less than 300 milliseconds.
'There are many kinds of decisions, and for some, having more time appears to be of no help. In these cases, you'd better go with your intuition, and that's what our subjects did', explains Zachary Mainen, the neuroscientist who led this study, while an Associate Professor at CSHL, in the USA.
This study suggests that rats can be used as an animal model to investigate what is happening in the human brain when 'intuitive' decisions are being made. 'Decision-making is not a well-understood process, but it appears to be surprisingly similar among species. This study provides a basis to begin to take apart one type of decision and see how it really works', the author adds.
More research in this area is now being conducted at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, in Lisbon
About Zachary Mainen, Principal Investigator and Director of the Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme, and team
Zach Mainen studied psychology and philosophy at Yale University and received his PhD in Neuroscience from the University of California, San Diego in 1995. From 1995-2007 he worked at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York, first as a postdoctoral fellow and then as Assistant and Associate Professor. In 2007 Mainen moved to Lisbon, Portugal to help establish the Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme (CNP). He is currently a Senior Investigator and Director of the Programme.
In 2009 Mainen received the Senior Investigator award from the European Research Council (ERC), and in 2010 he was elected a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in recognition for his work in the life sciences. Mainen's research interests concern how brains use sensory information to guide decisions and to acquire and evaluate knowledge. His laboratory's research combines quantitative descriptions of behavior with physiological analysis of neural systems and circuits and theoretical models of brain function.
Hatim A. Zariwala is Senior Scientist at the Merck Research Laboratories PA, USA. He received doctoral training in Neuroscience in the laboratory of Zach Mainen at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. His present research is in cellular and circuit level analysis of cognitive behaviors.
Naoshige Uchida is an associate professor at the Center for Brain Science at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA. He received postdoctoral trained in Zach Mainen's laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He is interested in neural circuit mechanisms regulating decision-making and learning.
Adam Kepecs received his bachelor's degree in computer science and mathematics at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary in 1997. He then switched to studying the brain, completing his Ph.D. in the laboratory of Dr. John Lisman at Brandeis University in theoretical neuroscience. In 2002 he joined the group of Dr. Zachary Mainen at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory where he began studying decision-making in rats. Since 2007 he has been an assistant professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory where he employs quantitative behavioral paradigms, electrophysiological, optical and molecular techniques to study the neural circuitry underlying decision-making in rodents.
About the Champalimaud Neuroscience Programme (CNP)
The CNP is an international programme which strives to unravel the neural basis of behaviour. The concept of the programme takes into account the fact that basic neuroscience research can have a significant impact on the understanding of brain function, which in turn may contribute to the understanding and possible treatment of neurological and psychiatric illnesses.
Maria João Soares