Simons and Alfred P. Sloan Foundations Fund Study That Reveals How the Brain Overcomes Its Own Limitations
Imagine trying to write your name so that it can be read in a mirror. Your brain has all of the visual information you need, and you’re a pro at writing your own name. Still, this task is very difficult for most people. That’s because it requires the brain to perform a mental transformation that it’s not familiar with: using what it sees in the mirror to accurately guide your hand to write backward.
MIT neuroscientists have now discovered how the brain tries to compensate for its poor performance in tasks that require this kind of complicated transformation. As it also does in other types of situations where it has little confidence in its own judgments, the brain attempts to overcome its difficulties by relying on previous experiences.
“If you’re doing something that requires a harder mental transformation, and therefore creates more uncertainty and more variability, you rely on your prior beliefs and bias yourself toward what you know how to do well, in order to compensate for that variability,” says Mehrdad Jazayeri, the Robert A. Swanson Career Development Professor of Life Sciences, a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the senior author of the study.
This strategy actually improves overall performance, the researchers report in their study, which appears in the Oct. 24 issue of the journal Nature Communications. Evan Remington, a McGovern Institute postdoc, is the paper’s lead author, and technical assistant Tiffany Parks is also an author on the paper...