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Their findings provide a basic understanding of performance monitoring, an executive function for managing daily life. The study, published May 6 in Science, was carried out by researchers at the Cedar-Sinai Neuroscience and Medical Center and the Department of Neurosurgery.
It is understood that the key finding of this study is that the brain uses the same group of neurons for performance feedback in many different situations-whether a person is trying a new activity for the first time or trying to improve a particular skill.
"part of the magic of the human brain is that it is so flexible," said Dr. Ueli Rutishauser, professor of neurosurgery, neurology and biomedical medicine, director of the Neuroscience and Medical Center, president of the Neuroscience Council and senior author of the study. We designed our research to decipher how the brain can generalize and specialize at the same time, both of which are essential to help us pursue a goal. "
Performance monitoring is an internal signal, a self-generated feedback, to let people know that they have made a mistake. One example is when a person realizes that they are driving through an intersection where they should turn. Another example is that a person said something in a conversation and realized that what they had just said was inappropriate.
Zhongzheng Fu, lead author of the study, said: "say the moment of'Oh, shoot 'and say' oops!' The moment is the start of performance monitoring. "
These signals help improve the performance of future attempts by sending information to areas of the brain that regulate mood, memory, planning, and problem solving. Performance monitoring also helps the brain adjust its attention by indicating the degree of conflict or difficulty encountered in the task.
"so, 'oops!' The moment may prompt someone to pay more attention to the next time they chat with friends or plan to stop at the store on their way home from work, "Fu said."
To see the performance monitoring during the action, the investigators recorded the activity of individual neurons in the medial frontal cortex of the study participants. The participants were patients with epilepsy, and as part of the treatment, electrodes were implanted into their brains to help researchers locate the participants' focus of seizures. Specifically, the patients' electrodes were implanted in the medial frontal cortex, an area of the brain known to play a central role in performance monitoring.
The group asked participants to take two commonly used cognitive tests.
In the Stroop task, set the look against the color naming. Participants saw a written name for a color, such as red, but it was printed on different colors of ink, such as green, and was then asked to say the color of the ink instead of written text.
"it creates a conflict in the brain," says Rutishauser. "you have decades of reading training, but now your goal is to suppress the reading habit and tell the color of the ink used to say the word."
In another task that involves identifying numbers, the multiple source interference task (MSIT), participants see three digits on the screen, two of which are the same and the other unique-such as 1-2-2. The subject's task was to press a button associated with a unique number, which in this case was "1" because the number "2" appeared twice.
"these two tasks are a powerful test of how self-monitoring participates in different scenarios involving different cognitive areas," Fu said.
When the subjects performed these tasks, the investigators noticed that two different types of neurons were working. After making a mistake, the "error" neurons fired strongly, while the "conflict" neurons responded to the difficulty of the task the subjects had just performed.
The researchers pointed out that when they looked at the activity of neurons in this area of the brain, they were surprised to find that most neurons became active only after a decision or action was completed. This suggests that this brain region plays a role in evaluating decisions afterwards rather than making decisions.
There are two kinds of performance monitoring: general areas and specific areas. Performance monitoring in general areas tells people what went wrong and can detect errors in any type of task-whether someone is driving a car, navigating in a social situation, or playing Wordle for the first time. This enables them to accomplish new tasks with little guidance, which machines cannot do.
Domain-specific performance monitoring tells the person who made the mistake what went wrong and detected the specific error-they missed a turn, said something inappropriate, or chose the wrong letter in the puzzle. This is a way for people to improve their personal skills.
Surprisingly, in the medial frontal cortex, neurons that emit domain-general and domain-specific information signals mingle with each other.
To understand how these signals are interpreted by other parts of the brain, it is helpful to think of these neurons as musicians in an orchestra, Rutishauser said. "if they all play at random, the audience-in this case, the area of the brain that receives the signal-just hears a messy set of notes. But if they play an arranged piece, even if there are so many instruments or performance monitoring neurons playing at the same time, it is possible to hear all kinds of melodies and harmonies clearly. "
But Ruishauser points out that too much or too little of this kind of signal transmission can cause problems.
It is understood that overactive performance monitoring can be characterized by obsessive-compulsive disorder, leading to errors that do not exist in a person's obsessive-compulsive examination. The other extreme is schizophrenia, in which case performance monitoring may be inactive so that a person is not aware of an error or the inappropriateness of his words and deeds.
"We believe that the mechanical knowledge we have acquired is critical to improving the treatment of these destructive mental disorders," Rutishauser said.