Creativity and human reasoning during decision-making

March 27, 2012, Public Library of Science
Modern human brain
Modern human brain. Credit: Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison Brain Collection.

A hallmark of human intelligence is the ability to efficiently adapt to uncertain, changing and open-ended environments. In such environments, efficient adaptive behavior often requires considering multiple alternative behavioral strategies, adjusting them, and possibly inventing new ones. These reasoning, learning and creative abilities involve the frontal lobes, which are especially well developed in humans compared to other primates. However, how the frontal function decides to create new strategies and how multiple strategies can be monitored concurrently remain largely unknown.

In a new study, published March 27 in the online, open-access journal , Anne Collins and Etienne Koechlin of Ecole Normale Supérieure and Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, France, examine function using behavioral experiments and computational models of human decision-making. They find that human frontal function concurrently monitors no more than three/four strategies but favors creativity, i.e. the exploration and creation of new strategies whenever no monitored strategies appear to be reliable enough.

The researchers asked one hundred participants to find "3-digit pin codes" by a method of trial and error, under a variety of conditions. They then developed a computational model that predicted the responses produced by participants, which also revealed that participants made their choices by mentally constructing and concurrently monitoring up to three distinct behavioral strategies; flexibly associating digits, motor responses and expected auditory feedbacks.

"This is a remarkable result, because the actual number of correct codes varied across sessions. This suggests that this capacity limit is a hard constraint of human higher cognition," said Dr. Koechlin. Consistently, the performance was significantly better in sessions including no more than three repeated codes.

Furthermore, the researchers found that the pattern of participants' responses derived from a decision system that strongly favors the exploration of new behavioral strategies: "The results provide evidence that the human executive system favors creativity for compensating its limited monitoring capacity" explained Dr. Koechlin. "It favors the exploration of new strategies but restrains the monitoring and storage of uncompetitive ones. Interestingly, this ability to regulate creativity varied across participants and critically explains individual variations in performances. We believe our study may also help to understand the biological foundations of individual differences in decision-making and ".

More information: Collins A, Koechlin E (2012) Reasoning, Learning, and Creativity: Frontal Lobe Function and Human Decision-Making. PLoS Biol 10(3): e1001293.doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001293

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.

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.

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, ...


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.