Neuroscientists identify physiological link between trial and error and learning

March 25, 2009,

Learning through trial and error often requires subjects to establish new physiological links by using information about trial outcome to strengthen correct responses or modify incorrect responses. New findings, which appear in the latest issue of the journal Neuron, establish a physiological measure linking trial outcome and learning.

"Our results open a new door to understanding the important role of in the process," said Wendy Suzuki, a professor at New York University's Center for Neural Science and a co-author of the study.

The study's other co-authors included researchers from France's National Center for Scientific Research, the Harvard Medical School, and the University of California, Davis. The study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

For the past half century, scientists have examined the role of the brain's medial temporal lobe in learning. Previous scholarship has determined that a critical function of the medial temporal lobe is to successfully acquire new information about facts and events ("declarative learning") by making new associations between initially unrelated items ("").

The researchers on the study published in Neuron sought to understand if there is a link between how the brain functions in associative learning and in processing information about trial outcome. Specifically, they were interested in cell activity in a portion of medial temporal lobe called the hippocampus. Earlier research had found that hippocampal are involved in associative learning, such as matching names with faces.

To investigate this process, the researchers had primates play a computer in which the subjects matched particular object-place combinations with . When they associated the correct object-place association with the correct response, the primates were rewarded with their favorite fruit juice. During these sessions, the researchers recorded the activity of the primates' hippocampal neurons.

The results showed that a surprisingly large proportion of recorded hippocampal cells—50 percent—differentiated between correct and error responses. This finding was striking since previous learning or memory studies in the hippocampus showed lower proportions of active cells in task-related activities. Moreover, their findings showed many of these cells also came to respond more strongly to particular object-place combinations as learning improved. This suggests that the cells' ability to make distinctions between correct and incorrect trial outcomes may influence new learning by changing a cell's sensitivity to the stimuli being learned.

Source: New York University (news : web)

Related Stories

Recommended for you

The brain learns completely differently than we've assumed since the 20th century

March 23, 2018
The brain is a complex network containing billions of neurons, where each of these neurons communicates simultaneously with thousands of other via their synapses (links). However, the neuron actually collects its many synaptic ...

Brain's tiniest blood vessels trigger spinal motor neurons to develop

March 23, 2018
A new study has revealed that the human brain's tiniest blood vessels can activate genes known to trigger spinal motor neurons, prompting the neurons to grow during early development. The findings could provide insights into ...

How do we lose memory? A STEP at a time, researchers say

March 23, 2018
In mice, rats, monkeys, and people, aging can take its toll on cognitive function. A new study by researchers at Yale and Université de Montréal reveal there is a common denominator to the decline in all of these species—an ...

Being hungry shuts off perception of chronic pain

March 22, 2018
Pain can be valuable. Without it, we might let our hand linger on a hot stove, for example. But longer-lasting pain, such as the inflammatory pain that can arise after injury, can be debilitating and costly, preventing us ...

From signal propagation to consciousness: New findings point to a potential connection

March 22, 2018
Researchers at New York University have discovered a novel mechanism through which information can be effectively transmitted across many areas in the brain—a finding that offers a potentially new way of understanding how ...

Using simplicity for complexity—new research sheds light on the perception of motion

March 22, 2018
A team of biologists has deciphered how neurons used in the perception of motion form in the brain of a fly —a finding that illustrates how complex neuronal circuits are constructed from simple developmental rules.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.