What determines whether you actually carry out what you really want to do? Researchers at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) have discovered that a complex junction in the basal ganglia of the brain - the caudate - provides the link between desire and action. The research results will help increase understanding of addiction, depression and Parkinson's disease. The study was published on 20 July in the Journal of Neuroscience.
For the first time, researchers have used brain scans to show the link between wanting and doing something. The caudate nucleus, which is responsible for that link, is deeply embedded in the emotional area of the brain. Multiple communication pathways run from the caudate to the motor (action) and cognitive (control) sections of the brains. Those areas then translate the desire to do something into genuine action
Have you always wanted to make a round-the-world trip? The interaction between the various areas of the brain ensures that you book that ticket and get on the plane to make your dream trip. Simultaneously, this mechanism may also be responsible for giving in to addiction, when people go from craving a drink or a cigarette to actually drinking or smoking.
Do you never actually get round to booking that round-the-world ticket? Then, your desire to travel the world probably got no further than your nucleus accumbens. This brain structure makes you feel desire and passion, but is not connected with the actual action-related part of the brain, according to the research.
New research method
To achieve their results, the researchers chose a new approach in studying the human brain. Instead of measuring activity in isolated brain regions, the researchers focused on measuring collaborative processes between different brain regions. This new research method should be preferable to merely studying the brain in separate areas, according to Helga Harsay, one of the researchers. To illustrate this point, Harsay refers to the current practice in research on Parkinson's disease. ‘A lot of attention is paid to certain small areas in the brain when studying and treating this disease. We would argue that the whole brain should be looked at from now on, and especially the connections that exist between brain areas. "
The research was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). It is part of the Vici Project of Prof. Ridderinkhof.
Helga A. Harsay, Michael X. Cohen, Nikolaas N. Oosterhof, Birte U. Forstmann, Rogier B. Mars, K. Richard Ridderinkhof: Functional Connectivity of the Striatum Links Motivation to Action Control in Humans. The Journal of Neuroscience (20 juli 2011).