Reflecting on past experience, more than intuition and advice, can have a positive influence in making better future decisions.
A new research has now shed light on how our past experiences inform our future choices.
For the first time, neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have reported how animals' knowledge obtained through past experiences can subconsciously influence their behaviour in new situations.
Individual neurons, called place cells, fire in a specific pattern that mirrors the animal's movement through space.
By looking at the time-specific patterns and sequences recorded from the firing cells, the researchers could tell which part of the maze the animal was running at the time.
In their new study, scientists George Dragoi and Susumu Tonegawa found that some of the sequences of place cells in mice' brains that fired during a novel spatial experience such as running a new maze had already occurred while the animals rested before the experience.
"These findings explain at the neuronal circuit level the phenomenon through which prior knowledge influences our decisions when we encounter a new situation," said Dragoi.
"This explains in part why different individuals form different representations and respond differently when faced with the same situation," he added.
When a mouse pauses and rests while running a maze, it mentally replays its experience. Its neurons fire in the same pattern of activity that occurred while it was running.
Unlike this version of mental replay, the phenomenon found by the MIT researchers is called 'preplay'. It occurred before the animal even started the new maze.
"These results suggest that internal neuronal dynamics during resting organize cells within the hippocampus into time-based sequences that help encode a related experience occurring in the future," said Tonegawa.
"Previous work largely ignored internal neuronal activities representing prior knowledge that occurred before a new event, space or situation. Our work shows that an individual's access to prior knowledge can help predict a response to a new but similar experience," he said.
The study has been reported on Dec. 22 in an advance online publication of Nature.