Humans: Making Mistakes One Rat at a Time

According to a new study published on Oct. 20 in Nature Neuroscience, people and rats may think alike when they’ve made a mistake and are trying to adjust their thinking.

Human and rodent subjects in the study had their external brainwaves measured after both erroneous and accurate performance on a time estimation task. Electrode recordings showed that members of both species employed low-frequency brainwaves in the medial frontal cortex (MFC) of the brain to synchronize neurons in their motor cortex.


The scientists also gave the rats a drug that blocked activity of the MFC, but obviously, the drug was not given to the human participants. When the drug was administered, the low-frequency waves did not occur in the motor cortex, neurons there did not fire coherently, and the rats did not alter their subsequent behavior on the task. Thus proving that the MFC is where the brain function takes place for adjusting after making a mistake.

A Brown University press release concludes, “The importance of the findings extends beyond a basic understanding of cognition, because they suggest that rat models could be a useful analog for humans in studies of how such ‘adaptive control’ neural mechanics are compromised in psychiatric diseases.”

In essence, the realization was not that rats have similar brain functions to us so as to provide proof to stop testing on them. The study actually offers the opposite of hope. Since the rats exhibit this similarity, it has given researchers a platform on which to announce that these animals should be used as an analog for human disease studies. Perhaps we’ve made a mistake and need to adjust our thinking.

Image Source: Ishan Manjrekar/Flickr