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"Rat Error" -- The Discovery Files

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A study by Brown and Yale Universities shows that the brains of humans and rats adapt in a similar way to errors by using low-frequency brainwaves in the medial frontal cortex to synchronize neurons in the motor cortex.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: Rat sounds) Learning from their mistakes.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

We all make mistakes. Hopefully, we modify our future behavior as a result. A study out of Brown and Yale Universities shows that people and rats may think alike when they've made a mistake and they're trying to adjust their thinking. The parallels suggest researchers could use rats as stand-ins for humans in certain studies.

The team tracked similarities in how subjects--be they human or rodent--adapted to errors as they performed trials of a simple time-estimation task. When members of either species made a mistake, electrode recordings showed that they used low frequency brain waves in an area of the brain that detects errors, to synchronize neurons in the part of the brain that controls movements. The result: Improved performance in the next trial.

The scientists then gave the rats a drug that blocked activity in the brain's error-detection area. This time the low frequency waves did not occur, neurons in the movement-control area didn't fire correctly and the rats didn't correct their error.

The researchers believe their findings could help lead to new treatments for conditions such as OCD, depression, Parkinson's and ADHD.

No mistake--some important findings from the tiny brain of a rodent. Personally, I don't know if I'm left-brain or rat-brain.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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