Whether you ponder over a discovery or explore it further depends on an area of the brain that has now been discovered.
The study has linked the mechanism governing this 'eureka' moment from exploration to malfunction in addiction and certain mental disorders.
In the study, the researchers Emmanuel Procyk and colleagues presented monkeys with a choice of touch targets on a computer screen, requiring the monkeys to spend time exploring which target would trigger a juice reward.
Once the monkeys discovered the reward target, the researchers then gave the animals a period during which they could repeatedly touch the reward target to obtain more juice.
During the trials, the researchers recorded the electrical activity of hundreds of neurons in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC), a brain region known to be active in adaptive behaviours such as the shift between exploring and exploiting.
In their analysis, the researchers measured the electrophysiological activity of cells during four different types of feedback—incorrect choices, first reward, repetition of the reward, and the ending of a trial by breaking fixation on the targets.
The researchers concluded: "Our data show that ACC discriminates between different types of feedback, allowing appropriate behavioural adaptations."
"Thus, the function we attribute to ACC activations is clearly not only to evaluate feedbacks but is also to participate in monitoring the different steps of the task at hand to optimise action adaptation and valuation. A dysfunction of these mechanisms represents the core feature of cognitive alterations observed in addiction and mental illness.
"The ACC produces signals that discriminate between various behaviourally relevant positive and negative feedbacks, suggesting a role in triggering appropriate adaptations. Our data reinforce the proposal that ACC is important for establishing action valuations. But they also emphasize a combined role in monitoring events/actions for behavioural regulation when task control is high, underlining the intimate link between control and action valuation," the researchers added.
The study is published in the journal Neuron, published by Cell Press.