Study pinpoints part of brain that suppresses instinct

December 22, 2010, New York University

Research from York University is revealing which regions in the brain "fire up" when we suppress an automatic behaviour such as the urge to look at other people as we enter an elevator.

A York study, published recently in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, used fMRI () to track brain activity when study participants looked at an image of a facial expression with a word superimposed on it. Study participants processed the words faster than the . However, when the word did not match the image – for example, when the word "sad" was superimposed on an image of someone smiling − participants reacted less quickly to a request to read the word.

"The emotion in the word doesn't match the emotion in the facial expression, which creates a conflict," said Joseph DeSouza, assistant professor of psychology in York's Faculty of Health. "Our study showed − for the first time − an increase in signal from the left inferior frontal cortex when the study participant was confronted by this conflict between the word and the image and asked to respond to directions that went against their automatic instincts."

Previous research on the prefrontal cortex has found this region to be implicated in higher order cognitive functions including longterm planning, response suppression and response selection. This experiment, conducted by graduate student Shima Ovaysikia under DeSouza's supervision, allowed researchers to study inhibitory mechanisms for much more complex stimuli than have been studied in the past.

The inferior frontal cortex is located near the front left temple. People who have problems with inhibition, including stroke or schizophrenia patients, may have damage to this inferior zone, says DeSouza. As a result, when they see something that is inconsistent – such as the image of a smiling face with the word "sad" across it – they would be expected to take more time to react, because the part of their brains needed to process it has been damaged or destroyed.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Study finds alcohol dampens brain waves associated with decision-making but not motor control

March 15, 2018
We all know that alcohol impairs our judgement, alertness and performance on tasks requiring attention, but the mechanism behind booze's effect on cognition still isn't well-understood. Now, a new study led by psychologists ...

Breakthrough discovery in neurotransmission

March 15, 2018
Samir Haj-Dahmane, Ph.D., senior research scientist at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions, has discovered how certain neurotransmitters are transported and reach their targets in the brain, which could ...

Research reveals brain mechanism involved in language learning

March 15, 2018
Learning a new language may be more of a science than an art, a University of Sussex study finds.

New research sheds light on underlying cause of brain injury in stroke

March 15, 2018
New research shows how the novel drug QNZ-46 can help to lessen the effects of excess release of glutamate in the brain – the main cause of brain injury in stroke.

Cell therapy could improve brain function for Alzheimer's disease

March 15, 2018
Like a great orchestra, your brain relies on the perfect coordination of many elements to function properly. And if one of those elements is out of sync, it affects the entire ensemble. In Alzheimer's disease, for instance, ...

New tissue technique gives stunning 3-D insights into the human brain

March 15, 2018
Imperial researchers have helped develop a breakthrough imaging technique which reveals the ultra-fine structure of the brain in unprecedented detail.


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.