A Racing Heart Can Alter Your Decision-Making Ability, Scientists Find

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Brain News: Body-state monitoring neurons can hijack the decision-making process, according to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

People with anxiety, addiction and other psychiatric disorders have a racing heart, high blood pressure and tendency to make “bad” decisions. Scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai investigated how these intense states or what scientists call arousal influence the brain’s decision-making process.

The researchers analyzed data from a previous set of experiments involving three rhesus monkeys that were to choose between receiving two rewards: either a lot of tasty juice or a little. The team found that monkeys consistently opted for more juice and on an average they made this choice when their hearts were beating faster validating the results of previous research that an aroused state fosters better performance.

Researchers further monitored the orbitofrontal cortex and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which are two of the brain’s decision centers. They analysed the electrical activity recorded from neurons in these two centers. They observed that with the change in an animal’s heart rate, these cells tend to either speed up or slow down.

This activity did not seem to change in response to decisions made about the different rewards that the monkeys were receiving. Researchers noted that the activity of the remaining cells in each area appeared to be primarily involved in the decision-making process.

“Brain scanning studies have suggested that bodily arousal alters the activity of these decision-making centers. Our results both support this idea on a cellular level and suggest that the sole job of some of these neurons is to track the body’s internal, or interoceptive, states,” Dr. Fujimoto, who led the study said. When the team heightened animals’ arousal state, it actually hampered the decision-making process.

“Our results suggest that the brain’s decision-making circuits may be wired to constantly monitor and integrate what is happening inside the body. Because of that, changes in our level of arousal can alter the way that these circuits work,” said Peter Rudebeck, PhD, senior author of the study.

Though not definitive, the study results clearly indicate that the heightened arousal state degrades and takes control of the decision-making circuits in the brain. These findings are valuable and useful in understanding of the brain areas and fundamental cellular processes that are playing a role in psychiatric disorders.

To Know More You May Refer To:

Fujimoto, A., Murray, E. A., & Rudebeck, P. H. (2021). Interaction between decision-making and interoceptive representations of bodily arousal in frontal cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(35), e2014781118. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2014781118

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