Rain or Shine? Computer Models How Brain Cells Reach a Decision

Dec 14, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Yale University researchers have devised a computer model to explain how the brain makes decisions based on statistical probabilities-as, for instance, when a doctor makes a diagnosis based on several conflicting test results.

Yale University researchers have devised a to explain how the brain makes decisions based on statistical probabilities—as, for instance, when a doctor makes a diagnosis based on several conflicting test results.

In a study published online December 13 in the journal , Xiao-Jing Wang, professor of neurobiology at Yale School of Medicine and at the Kavli Institute of Neuroscience, proposes that synapses—the connections between neurons—are capable of computing probabilities from observed cues in order to make a statistical inference.

“We often need to make probabilistic inference—like deducing which of the numerous foods we ate made us sick, reaching a medical diagnosis based on symptoms and test results, or deciding whether it will rain or shine given a few pieces of information about the atmosphere,” Wang said. “Such decisions are based on the calculus of chance or the statistical theory of prediction.”

With his former postdoctoral associate Alireza Soltani, now at the California Institute of Technology, Wang built computer models of neural circuits to investigate how such probabilistic decisions are carried out in the brain. The model explains a phenomenon called “base rate neglect” observed in humans. Base rate neglect roughly means that a piece of information (for example, a test result that shows a spot on the lung) that is equally predictive of two possible outcomes (I have cancer or I do not have cancer) is perceived by people to be more predictive for the one that is less probable (I have cancer).

“What's interesting is that such complicated probabilistic computations and psychological phenomena can now be studied, perhaps explained, in terms of the neural computation in the brain,” Wang said.

Provided by Yale University (news : web)

Explore further: Sport can help multiple sclerosis patients

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Our unconscious brain makes the best decisions possible

Dec 24, 2008

Researchers at the University of Rochester have shown that the human brain—once thought to be a seriously flawed decision maker—is actually hard-wired to allow us to make the best decisions possible with the information ...

Just a numbers game? Making sense of health statistics

Oct 10, 2008

Presidential candidates use them to persuade voters, drug companies use them to sell their products, and the media spin them in all kinds of ways, but nobody - candidates, reporters, let alone health consumers - understands ...

New brain cells listen before they talk

Oct 30, 2007

Newly created neurons in adults rely on signals from distant brain regions to regulate their maturation and survival before they can communicate with existing neighboring cells—a finding that has important implications ...

Recommended for you

What happens in our brain when we unlock a door?

2 hours ago

People who are unable to button up their jacket or who find it difficult to insert a key in lock suffer from a condition known as apraxia. This means that their motor skills have been impaired – as a result ...

Sport can help multiple sclerosis patients

6 hours ago

A study developed at the Miguel Hernández University of Elche (Spain) has preliminarily concluded that people with multiple sclerosis may reduce perceived fatigue and increase mobility through a series of ...

Obama's BRAIN initiative gets more than $300 million

10 hours ago

President Barack Obama's initiative to study the brain and improve treatment of conditions like Alzheimer's and autism was given a boost Tuesday with the announcement of more than $300 million in funds.

User comments : 0