What happens when the brain is faced with a decision-making process that forces it to explore various possibilities and make the right choice? The work focused on cognitive processing, and recorded small changes in the magnetic field generated by brain activity. The simple fact of changing one’s mind is accompanied by an increase of sustained attention and is also manifested in the peripheral nervous system.
In a constantly changing world, making good decisions requires being able to explore different strategies and identify the most appropriate. Which restaurant are you going to eat tonight? Which book to buy? What to do this weekend ? Answering these questions, like thousands of others, requires searching your surroundings for relevant information—whether it’s restaurant reviews, literary opinions, or weather reports.
In research laboratories, the study of behavioral and neurological markers of this type of exploration is nothing new. However, the experimental protocols used today do not make it possible to isolate specific markers of exploration, as they are usually masked by other cognitive processes associated with it.
In fact, we begin to explore our surroundings when our usual strategies no longer work as they used to—either because we’re tired of our usual restaurants, or because the weekend weather has changed. But exploration also coincides with behavior change. It is therefore difficult to determine whether the markers of exploration described in previous studies are in fact specific to exploration itself, or if they are characteristic of other processes related to behavioral change occurring at the same time. ,
How to isolate specific exploration markers?
To address this problem, researchers have developed a new experimental protocol allowing for the first time the separation of exploration from other cognitive processes. How ? By comparing the two conditions identical in every way, except for the possibility of discovery of one’s environment: the first condition allowed free exploration, while the second condition only allowed observation of that environment – this time without the possibility of exploration.
The team, led by Valentin Viart, Director of Inserm Research at the Cognitive and Computational Neurosciences Laboratory (INSERM/ENS-PSL) and Valerian Chambon, Director of CNRS Research at the Jean-Nicod Institute (CNRS/ENS-PSL), tested this new study. Experimental protocol in a group of volunteers whose cerebral magnetic activity was recorded. This work has been published in the journal elife,
two terms of the protocol
In this protocol, the two situations took the form of a game of cards, of completely equal difficulty from a statistical point of view. In both the cases, packets of colored cards were placed in front of the volunteers. Each deck contains cards of several colors in different proportions.
In the first condition (exploration key), volunteers were to draw cards themselves from the available decks, with the possibility of changing the deck with each new card, and were instructed to draw as many cards of one color as possible. ” target “.
In the second situation (observation), the same volunteers did not have the opportunity to locate the available deck, as the cards were drawn this time by the experimenter, without identifying the deck from which they were discarded. They were instructed to guess.
, Agency, i.e. the fact of being able to detect one’s environment, and generally to modify it, is an essential dimension but is unfortunately largely ignored by decision theories.Valerian Chambon explains.
, By manipulating the agency of the volunteers tested through our protocol, we showed that exploration is associated with a particularly high perceived uncertainty, as well as a willingness to try new strategies, even if they do very well initially. Don’t work with “, continues Marion Raoult, the first signatory to the article and recently recruited as a CNRS researcher at the cole Normale Superior – PSL.
Magnetoencephalography (MEG) recordings, whose sub-second temporal resolution is significantly superior to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have shown that exploration is preceded by a notably marked suppression of brain waves in the alpha band, a well-known effect of attention. Is. and that’s not all.
A new way of understanding mental diseases
, By measuring the pupillary dilation of the tested volunteers as well as their cardiac activity, we also observed that exploration is associated with longer pupillary response over time, as well as a delay in heartbeat at the start of exploration. Is. “, says Marion Raoult. These results indicate that exploration is accompanied by a sustained increase of attention that is also manifested in the peripheral nervous system.
This experimental protocol also opens new avenues for the study of certain psychiatric disorders. , Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by behavioral disorders in situations of uncertainty, but the origins of these disorders are poorly understood.Specifies Valentin Viart. Our experimental protocol may explain some of these disorders by a specific deficit in exploration, not a general deficit in decision making as is often the case”.
- nice to know : A “behavioral marker” is a specific behavior of a cognitive process. For example, in this study, a sudden drop in confidence at the time of behavior change is a behavioral marker of exploration.