Do ‘Traffic Lights’ in the Brain Direct Our Actions? Delayed Inhibition Between Neurons Identified as Possible Basis for Decision Making

The timing of exciting (red curve) and inhibiting (blue curve) signals could be a way to control the "traffic flow" of activity in the brain. (Illustration: Bernstein Center Freiburg) (Credit: Illustration courtesy of Bernstein Center Freiburg)

In every waking minute, we have to make decisions — sometimes within a split second. Neuroscientists at the Bernstein Center Freiburg have now discovered a possible explanation how the brain chooses between alternative options. The key lies in extremely fast changes in the communication between single nerve cells.

The traffic light changes from green to orange — should I push down the accelerator a little bit further or rather hit the brakes? Our daily lives present a long series of decisions we have to make, and sometimes we only have a split second at our disposal. Often the problem of decision-making entails the selection of one set of brain processes over multiple others seeking access to same resources. Several mechanisms have been suggested how the brain might solve this problem. However, up to now, it is a mystery what exactly happens when during a rapid choice between two options.

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