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A new study led by Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics suggests that we learn best when we make decisions outside of our comfort zone, and sheds light on how the brain might achieve this.

How the brain learns from making difficult decisions
The dopamine neurons (green) light up when animals win a difficult choice, teaching them to make better decisions in the future.

Making the best decisions in our ever-changing world requires learning. Evolution rewards those of us who rapidly learn from wins and from mistakes. So how does the brain learn to make good decisions in the face of uncertainty?

A new paper led by Dr Armin Lak (Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics) and colleagues at UCL suggests learning mainly happens when we are not confident about the outcome, and illustrates the brain signals that underlie this.

Several studies have explored how humans make decisions. Some have focused on sensory decisions; how decisions are made when the stimulus is either clear or unclear, affecting confidence in the outcome. Others have focused on reward value; how economic decisions are made based on the value of rewards. This new study from Lak et al brings these two considerations together by changing both the strength of sensory signals as well as the reward value, and does so for the first time in mice, allowing for harnessing advanced tools to examine brain activity during decision making.

Read more (Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics)

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