Sunday, September 09, 2007

Scientists Spot Brain's 'Free Willy' Center

Scientists Spot Brain's 'Free Will' Center
It helps people refrain from actions good and bad, experts say.

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDay News) -- If you've ever been of "two minds" about doing something, a new study may explain why.

Scientists say one part of the brain is responsible for initiating action, while a totally separate area is in charge of not taking that action.

This newly identified region, involved in an aspect of self-control, may change conceptions of human free will, the researchers said. It could also explain the basis of impulsive as well as reluctant behavior, they added.
...doesn't this suggest the existence of two 'free will' centers [to do or not to do]1? And how was this demonstrated?
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers studied the brain activity of participants in two situations -- when they acted out as they had planned, or when they decided not to follow their original intention.

Fifteen right-handed individuals ... participated in a "go-no-go" exercise. They were asked to press a button on a keyboard but first to indicate what time they were going to perform this action. They were also asked to choose instances in which they stopped before actually pressing the button.

When participants decided not to press the button, a specific area of the frontal lobe region of the brain lit up. When participants followed through, however, the area did not light up.
In a surprising show of moderation and restraint in interpreting the results2, the HealthDay article concludes:
For now, the implications of the research are esoteric but, down the line, who knows?


1That's actually the title of the original article by Brass and Haggard (2007). More about it in the next post.

2Unlike the headline (as usual), which is probably not the reporter's fault.

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