Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"What's next?": How dopamine helps us predict the future

Fascinating new research from Jeffrey Zacks at WUSTL on the role of the mind-brain dopamine system (MDS) in making predictions about the future that keep the mind-brain's stream of consciousness as smooth as possible (as reported by Tony Fitzpatrick):
“When we watch everyday activity unfold around us, we make predictions about what will happen a few seconds out,” Zacks says. “Most of the time, our predictions are right.
“Successful predictions are associated with the subjective experience of a smooth stream of consciousness. But a few times a minute, our predictions come out wrong and then we perceive a break in the stream of consciousness, accompanied by an uptick in activity of primitive parts of the brain involved with the MDS that regulate attention and adaptation to unpredicted changes.”
I've written in the past about computer modeling suggesting that the dopamine system is involved in predicting future outcomes and how that may relate to the experience of pleasure. It's also known that dopaminergic medicines are sometimes effective in treating attention dysfunction, though our understanding of why has been limited. The evidence is growing that our model of dopamine is limited if we think of it only as mediating a pleasure-reward pathway and this new information supporting dopamine's role in making predictions certainly fits in an evolutionary context better than pleasure-reward.

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