Study of brain activity in monkeys shows how the brain processes mistakes made by others

January 11, 2013, RIKEN
Activity of individual neurons in the medial frontal cortex of monkeys was recorded while they observed their partner making errors. Credit: 2012 Masaki Isoda, RIKEN Brain Science Institute

Humans and other animals learn by making mistakes. They can also learn from observing the mistakes of others. The brain processes self-generated errors in a region called the medial frontal cortex (MFC) but little is known about how it processes the observed errors of others. A Japanese research team led by Masaki Isoda and Atsushi Iriki of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute has now demonstrated that the MFC is also involved in processing observed errors.

The team studied the brains of while the animals performed the same task. Two monkeys sat opposite each other and took turns to choose between a yellow and green button, one of which resulted in a liquid reward for both. Each monkey's turn consisted of .

After blocks of between 5 and 17 choices, the button that resulted in reward was switched unpredictably, usually causing an error on the next choice. The choices made by each monkey immediately after such errors, or errors that were random, showed that they used both their own errors and their partner's to guide their subsequent choices. While the monkeys performed this task, the researchers recorded activity of single neurons in their brains.

In this way they were able to determine which behavioural aspect was most closely associated with each neuron's activity, explains Isoda. "We found that many neurons in the medial frontal cortex were not activated when the monkey made an error itself, but they became active when their partner made an error." This shows that it is the MFC which processes observations of another's error, and the corresponding behavior shows that observing and processing such errors guides subsequent actions.

"Such error identification and subsequent are of crucial importance for developing and maintaining successful social communities," says Isoda. "Humans are tuned into other people's mistakes not only for competitive success, but also for cooperative group living. If non- become available in humans, then we should be able to identify medial frontal neurons that behave similarly."

Having identified the MFC as being involved, Isoda now wants to delve deeper into the process. "The next steps will be to clarify whether the inactivation of medial frontal cortex reduces the ability to identify others' errors, and to determine whether other brain regions are also involved in the processing of others' errors."

Explore further: Distinguishing yourself from others

More information: Yoshida, K., Saito, N., Iriki, A. & Isoda, M. Social error monitoring in macaque frontal cortex. Nature Neuroscience 15, 1307–1312 (2012). www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v … n9/full/nn.3180.html

Related Stories

Distinguishing yourself from others

April 22, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Researchers in Japan have identified the specific nerve cells responsible for the ability to distinguish between the actions of self and others. The discovery lays the foundations for studying social learning ...

The brain recruits its own decision-making circuits to simulate how other people make decisions

December 14, 2012
A team of researchers led by Hiroyuki Nakahara and Shinsuke Suzuki of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute has identified a set of brain structures that are critical for predicting how other people make decisions.

Decision to give a group effort in the brain

December 23, 2012
A monkey would probably never agree that it is better to give than to receive, but they do apparently get some reward from giving to another monkey.

Recommended for you

To sleep, perchance to forget

February 17, 2018
The debate in sleep science has gone on for a generation. People and other animals sicken and die if they are deprived of sleep, but why is sleep so essential?

Newborn babies who suffered stroke regain language function in opposite side of brain

February 17, 2018
It's not rare that a baby experiences a stroke around the time it is born. Birth is hard on the brain, as is the change in blood circulation from the mother to the neonate. At least 1 in 4,000 babies are affected shortly ...

Lab-grown human cerebellar cells yield clues to autism

February 16, 2018
Increasing evidence has linked autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with dysfunction of the brain's cerebellum, but the details have been unclear. In a new study, researchers at Boston Children's Hospital used stem cell technology ...

Fragile X syndrome neurons can be restored, study shows

February 16, 2018
Fragile X syndrome is the most frequent cause of intellectual disability in males, affecting one out of every 3,600 boys born. The syndrome can also cause autistic traits, such as social and communication deficits, as well ...

Brain-machine interface study suggests how brains prepare for action

February 16, 2018
Somewhere right now in Pyeongchang, South Korea, an Olympic skier is thinking through the twists and spins she'll make in the aerial competition, a speed skater is visualizing how he'll sneak past a competitor on the inside ...

Humans blink strategically in response to environmental demands

February 16, 2018
If a brief event in our surroundings is about to happen, it is probably better not to blink during that moment. A team of researchers at the Centre for Cognitive Science from Technische Universität Darmstadt published a ...

0 comments

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.