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Connectivity brain networks essential for voluntary action control

10 May 2011 Universiteit van Amsterdam (UVA)

Which brain mechanisms can we use to consciously suppress behaviour? Psychologists at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have demonstrated that voluntary action control - such as braking in time for a traffic light - is achieved through connectivity (cooperation) between two prominent networks in the brain: the hyper-direct and indirect pathways. It also appears that communication between the higher (developed later) and the more basal brain areas predicts how efficiently people can suppress their behaviour on time. The findings of the UvA researchers were published on 4 May in the scientific journal ‘The Journal of Neuroscience’.

Previous research had shown that some brain areas play a prominent role in controlling behaviour. Until now, it was not known how these networks combine to stop a planned action. Using a method recently developed at the UvA, Sara Jahfari, PhD student at the Department of Developmental Psychology, and her colleagues, were able to test two prominent theories on action control. Here they made use of fMRI data gathered from twenty subjects who had to cancel an initiated action.

The research results show that both the very fast (hyper direct) and more controlled (indirect) brain pathways are essential for the efficient control of behaviour. The findings are important for, among other things, a better understanding of disorders – such as Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease - where control of voluntary behaviour presents a problem.

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