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You Are What You Think

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

Have you ever wondered what pathways control our planned behaviors? Whether it is catching a ball, or adjusting our balance.

Scientists at John Hopkins University have concluded that last-minute decision making is a lot more complicated than a single pathway controlling our decisions. By studying parts of the brain in humans and monkeys, they concluded that multiple brain areas are involved during this neural coordination. As a result, changing our mind mere seconds after making a decision is too late to alter movement.

Using fMRI- Scientists discovered the ultrafast communication between two specific zones within the prefrontal cortex and the frontal eyelid which control visual awareness and eye movement. "The longer a decision has to take hold in the brain, the harder it is to reverse. Stopping a planned behavior requires extremely fast choreography between several distinct areas of the brain." We have 100 milliseconds of making a decision to change it so that we can successfully revise our plans, but if we wait longer and change our mind 200 milliseconds after then that desired change will not happen.

A study monitored 21 subjects using fMRI with a "stop-signal task" which involves canceling a planned movement. They were asked to watch the screen, then immediately stare at the black dot as it appeared. While staring, a red dot would appear and distract their gaze and shift their eyes. Different areas of the brain lit up during this experiment. To confirm results they performed the study once more on a macaque. The results were analogous.

Once the regions involved are determined, this may help prevent elders from falling and modifying last minute impulses in people. “If we can understand how the brain stops or prevents an action, we may gain ability to enhance that stopping process to afford individuals more control over their choices.”

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