Tuesday, October 21, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Brain’s ‘background noise’ may affect decisions

By
From page A5 | June 17, 2014 |

Our ability to make choices — and sometimes mistakes — might arise from random fluctuations in the brain’s background electrical noise, according to a recent study from the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain.

“How do we behave independently of cause and effect?” said Jesse Bengson, a postdoctoral researcher at the center and first author on the paper. “This shows how arbitrary states in the brain can influence apparently voluntary decisions.”

The brain has a normal level of “background noise,” Bengson said, as electrical activity patterns fluctuate across the brain. In the new study, decisions could be predicted based on the pattern of brain activity immediately before a decision was made.

Bengson sat volunteers in front of a screen and told them to fix their attention on the center, while using electroencephalography, or EEG, to record their brains’ electrical activity. The volunteers were instructed to make a decision to look either to the left or to the right when a cue symbol appeared on screen, and then to report their decision.

The cue to look left or right appeared at random intervals, so the volunteers could not consciously or unconsciously prepare for it.

The brain has a normal level of “background noise,” Bengson said, as electrical activity patterns fluctuate across the brain. The researchers found that the pattern of activity in the second or so before the cue symbol appeared — before the volunteers could know they were going to make a decision — could predict the likely outcome of the decision.

“The state of the brain right before presentation of the cue determines whether you will attend to the left or to the right,” Bengson said.

The experiment builds on a famous 1970s experiment by Benjamin Libet, a psychologist at UCSF who was later affiliated with the UCD Center for Neuroscience.

Libet also measured brain electrical activity immediately before a volunteer made a decision to press a switch in response to a visual signal. He found brain activity immediately before the volunteer reported deciding to press the switch.

The new results build on Libet’s finding, because they provide a model for how brain activity could precede decision, Bengson said. Additionally, Libet had to rely on when volunteers said they made their decision. In the new experiment, the random timing means that “we know people aren’t making the decision in advance,” Bengson said.

Libet’s experiment raised questions of free will — if our brain is preparing to act before we know we are going to act, how do we make a conscious decision to act? The new work, though, shows how “brain noise” might actually create the opening for free will, Bengson said.

“It inserts a random effect that allows us to be freed from simple cause and effect,” he said.

The work, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, was published online in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Bengson is also currently a visiting assistant professor at Bates College, Maine. Co-authors on the paper are Todd Kelley, postdoctoral researcher, Center for Mind and Brain; professor Jane-Ling Wang and graduate student Xiaoke Zhang, department of statistics; and professor George (Ron) Mangun, Center for Mind and Brain and dean of the Division of Social Sciences at UCD.

— UC Davis News

Comments

comments

.

News

Winters homicide case enters jury-selection phase

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1

 
So much more than a cute baby store

By Bob Schultz | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Suspected arson fires concern neighbors, firefighters

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Apply now for community mediation training

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Paws for Thought: Pets for Vets: matches made in heaven

By Evelyn Dale | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
‘Tokyo Kill’ author will visit bookstore

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

DPNS has play group, preschool openings

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Sierra Club gathers for morning walks

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

Yolo Knitters Guild plans fall meetings

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Local farm products found at hospital market

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

Tax tips offered for sole proprietors

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
First-time home buyers get free advice

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Psychiatric clinic hosts open house

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Beer dinner set on Co-op patio

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Walkin’ the Dawg through the park

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
 
Essay contest winners will be honored Tuesday

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

Library hosts after-hours teen movie nights

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

 
Volunteers sought to make veggie bags

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

Forum eyes impacts of raising the local minimum wage

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

 
NAMI-Yolo family support group meets Sunday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

To save the birds, look to the fish

By Kat Kerlin | From Page: A7 | Gallery

 
Birding field trip planned Saturday

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A12 | Gallery

.

Forum

Ready to go, whatever happens

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

 
Where there’s a will …

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

Sunder has bold vision

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

 
Archer, Nolan are my picks

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

She’s innovative, passionate

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

 
An accidental fan becomes a baseball devotee

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

U.N. steps up to lead Ebola response

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

 
John Cole cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A8

These three are the best

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

 
.

Sports

Villegas wonderstrike powers Devils

By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
DHS golfers take the title

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

Devil defense regresses in football loss

By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1

 
UCD’s Wegener is the engine that drives the train

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Sports briefs: Top-end tennis talent helps DHS girls grab a win

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Junior Blue Devils: Regular slate ends with 2 Davis teams playoff bound

By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

After running the gridiron gauntlet, can UCD regroup?

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B8 | Gallery

 
.

Features

.

Arts

 
Stories on Stage Davis presents tales by Lescroart, Montieth

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11 | Gallery

 
.

Business

.

Obituaries

Peggy Belenis Swisher

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Comics: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 (set 1)

By Creator | From Page: B5

 
Comics: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 (set 2)

By Creator | From Page: B7