Winning is everywhere in the brain when we play games.
The study found that when participants play games, such as rock-paper-scissors, almost the entire brain is engaged, not just the reward centres of the brain, which have been assigned the central role for shaping adaptive human behaviour.
Textbooks teach that sensations of reward and punishment are cantered in a region at the centre of the brain called the basal ganglia, which contains a network of cells distributing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that reaches into the prefrontal cortex and other areas of the brain.
The theory has been confirmed by previous functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) scans that show high levels of activity in the dopamine network when subjects are presented by desirable or frightening stimuli.
Lead author of the study Timothy Vickery and colleagues wanted to know if the textbooks were leaving out the role of other brain areas.
They used a technique called multi-voxel pattern analysis to analyze fMRI data.
Instead of comparing the overall signal strength corresponding to reward and punishment within each region of the brain, the new analysis looked for patterns within patches of brain activity.
They found that wins and losses in games were recognizable from almost all areas of the brain.
"We aren't saying that the dopamine network is not the core system of reward processing in the brain," said Vickery, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology.
"Our novel point is that this information makes it way throughout the entire brain in a much more far-reaching manner than previously thought," he added.
The study published in the Oct. 6 issue of the journal Neuron. (ANI)
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