Japanese researchers have discovered what happens in the brain when people create abstract thoughts.
Abstraction is an exclusive capacity of the human species that allows information to be organized beyond immediate sensory reality.
We constantly need to think in abstract terms, as our world would be too complex otherwise, the researchers say in a statement .
Abstract thinking is, therefore, the extraction and organization of essential information from a large amount of information.
The new research examined how humans think abstractly when learning new unknown rules, measuring their brain activity using fMRI.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a safe and non-invasive technique used to measure and correlate the activities of the brain. It measures changes in brain blood flow associated with brain activity.
The researchers used an Artificial Intelligence technique, known as machine learning, and advanced neuroimaging, to detect when a mental representation appears in the brain without us noticing, since it is below the level of consciousness.
When that happened, the researchers gave the 33 people participating in the experiment a small reward.
In this way, that mental representation was subjectively associated with the reward, that is, with a value.
IN THE SIGHT OF SCIENTISTS
In view of the scientists The researchers thus managed to “fool” the brain of the participants, since they became accustomed to using mental representations to construct abstract thoughts, all in the eyes of the scientists.
The researchers then discovered that, when solving problems with abstract thinking, the brain preferentially uses a specific region that is involved in value judgments.
In 2010, research carried out at MIT established that the ability to make certain value judgments about the actions of others depends on a specific area of the brain known as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC).
The new research now establishes that there is a causal relationship between brain activity that occurs in that region of the brain when value is expected, and abstract thinking.
More specifically, he has determined for the first time that the vmPFC is deeply involved in reward-seeking decisions: it is functionally connected to the visual cortex in the construction of a new value signal.
The new research found that, when solving problems with abstract thinking, the participants in this research preferentially used that region of the brain involved in value judgment.
Finally, this research was also able to promote the use of abstract thinking in the participants, by artificially adding value to the brain activity corresponding to the abstracted information, through a technology known as Decoded Neurofeedback (DecNef).
Scientific scoop Until now, no research has clarified how the brain creates abstract thought from sensory information such as vision.
Furthermore, it was also unclear how the brain naturally learns abstract thinking to solve new and unfamiliar problems.
The researchers consider that their discovery not only constitutes an unprecedented approach to the basis of the important function of the human brain that is abstract thinking, but also contributes to new developments in artificial intelligence.
According to this study, representations of brain regions that the brain normally uses to make decisions in anticipation of monetary value may be the basis for the brain’s ability to generate abstract thoughts.
If this is true, adding value to brain activity by looking at a visual factor can be expected to particularly facilitate associated abstract thinking, the researchers note.
The general conclusion they reach is that value judgment and abstract thinking are related.
They also believe that this study will provide new knowledge about new methods of learning and rehabilitation for patients with mental illness.
Brain Wash? Finally, they point out that understanding how humans learn from a small number of samples when the problem is complex is a good thing in itself, but they also warn that the result of this work is the development of a new AI that reaches the level of human intelligence : can promote abstract thinking in the brain.
“Some may think that developing such a protocol is similar to some kind of brainwashing. We will carefully consider these potential issues and work with ethics and bioethics experts to address ethical issues by evaluating researchers from the Ethics and Safety Commission, ”the researchers conclude.