Why Some People Are Pessimistic?

Sunday, August 12, 2018 - 10:07

MIT neuroscientists have investigated the region of the brain may be inducing pessimistic decisions.

The researchers at MIT have been examining the neuroscience of decision making for several years, New Atlas reports.

Based on the previous studies, cost-benefit decisions are mediated by a brain circuit that runs from the medial prefrontal cortex to a specific cluster of neurons located in the striatum. It was found that when this circuit is disrupted, an animal would be more likely to make a high-risk, high-reward decision.

The new research set out to focus on the area of the brain where negative weighting is generated in the decision making process. The study focused on the caudate nucleus, a small structure making up part of the dorsal striatum, a component of the basal ganglia. The experiments stimulated the caudate nucleus in macaque monkeys with a small electric current.

The animals were presented with a decision, a reward of juice was paired with an unpleasant puff of air to the face – a simple cost-benefit decision. What degree of negative stimulus will the animal put up with to get the reward? The experiment intriguingly showed that when the caudate nucleus was stimulated the animals began to avoid choosing the reward, when previously they would have put up with the unpleasant stimulus.

"This state we've mimicked has an overestimation of cost relative to benefit," explains Ann Graybiel, senior author on the new research.

Essentially, the research reveals that pessimistic decision-making can potentially be tied to an overactive caudate nucleus. Graybiel is turning her focus to validating these findings in human subjects, working with patients suffering from anxiety and depression to find out whether abnormal activity in the caudate nucleus can be specifically seen during negative decision-making.

As well as offering a compelling insight into how our brains weigh positive or negative outcomes when making a decision, the research hopes to help direct scientists toward better treatments for people suffering from depression and anxiety. For some people with extreme neuropsychiatric disorders, a crippling pessimistic worldview can be overwhelming, and this discovery may help focus treatments on an area of the brain that can modulate those negative sensations.

The research was published in the journal Neuron.

Source: MIT News

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