Brain’s ‘Oops’ Center Gives Clues to OCD

It lights up when people worry about making costly mistakes, study finds
It lights up when people worry about making costly mistakes, study finds

WEDNESDAY, April 12 (HealthDay News) — Everybody makes mistakes, but researchers say they’ve spotted a brain area that swings into action when expensive errors are made.

While the finding is interesting in terms of mapping the brain’s reactions, it may also help increase the understanding of mental health problems, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the researchers say.

“We have been interested in how the brain processes error,” explained lead author Dr. Stephan Taylor, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Reporting in the April 12 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, his team found that an area of the brain called the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) becomes very active when people realize they’ve made a mistake that carries negative consequences — for example, losing money.

In the study, Taylor’s team scanned the brains of 12 volunteers as they played a game centered on making or losing money. During the game, participants were given immediate feedback about whether they were playing right, or making costly mistakes.

The brain’s response to mistakes that cost money was greater than the response to other mistakes, the Michigan team found. And the involvement of the rACC suggests the importance of emotions in decisions and performance-monitoring processes, Taylor said.

“This is an area of the brain that is involved in OCD and depression,” Taylor said. “People with OCD focus on getting it right — there is a sense in OCD that things are not right, and they have to work extra hard to get them right.”

Taylor believes the finding has implications for OCD treatment. “This is more information that a part of the brain is doing a particular thing in a psychiatric disorder,” he said.

To that end, he said, “we are doing a treatment study in which we are looking at people by measuring their brain activity before and after they go through cognitive behavior therapy, to demonstrate that this area changes with treatment.”

One expert thinks this study has value only if it can be put into clinical practice.

“The point is: how much real clinical significance is there in these kind of studies?” said Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, an associate research professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine. “Most people are satisfied to just do brain mapping. What good is a map if you don’t do anything with it?”

“We have now reached the point that what we should be working much harder to do is to train people in how to modify those responses,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz believes people can be trained to modify their automatic emotional responses. “Humans are not animals,” he said. “This field has been dictated by the passive side of nervous system function. What we need to start doing is studying the active side. In other words, what can the mind do willfully to modify these autonomic responses?”

Using a variety of techniques, people with OCD and other conditions can be taught not to respond to automatic brain activity, Schwartz said. “You can train people to say: ‘That’s a false brain message, I’m not going to respond to that,'” Schwartz said.

SOURCE:- (*this news item will not be available after 05/12/2006)

SOURCE:- (*this news item will not be available after 05/12/2006)

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