Choosing Needs Over Wants: How Dopamine Decides
Researchers unveiled the brain’s ability to prioritize needs over wants using the dopamine reward system. This study, observing a male zebra finch’s shift from quenching thirst to courting when faced with a female, sheds light on the flexible nature of the dopamine system.
The finding not only broadens our comprehension of dopamine’s role in complex behaviors but could also guide the evolution of artificial intelligence systems.
- The brain’s dopamine system can dynamically adjust to prioritize between competing needs.
- A novel technique involving optical recording and an engineered virus allowed researchers to observe dopamine levels for extended periods, leading to this discovery.
- When a lonely and thirsty male zebra finch sees a female, his dopamine system adjusts, and his focus shifts from drinking water to courting the female.
Source: Cornell University
While many studies have investigated the neuroscience behind how an animal learns to achieve a goal, such as obtaining water when thirsty, none have understood how animals choose between several competing needs – until now.
A Cornell University-led study, published Sept. 27 in the journal Nature, used advanced techniques developed by researchers to track the brain’s dopamine reward system and found – for the first time – this system flexibly retunes toward the most important goal when faced with multiple competing needs.
In the study, when a lonely and thirsty male zebra finch encountered a female, his thirst waned and he instead focused his attention on her, a shift reflected in the dopamine system.
Along with expanding our understanding of how dopamine neurons and pathways influence complex behavior, the finding may also inform the development of new artificial intelligence systems that mimic neural networks and dopamine reward systems.
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