Skip to content
Surprising Science

Scientists Find How Thought Determines Behavior

Neuroscientists at MIT and Boston University have located pairs of neuron ensembles that oscillate differently depending on which thought is being entertained, illuminating a mystery of cognition.

What’s the Latest Development?

Scientists at MIT and Boston University have taken a big step toward understanding how we, and our brains, make choices and how the thoughts that inform those choices may provide a foundation for consciousness. “The researchers identified two neural ensembles in the brains of monkeys trained to respond to objects based on either their color or orientation. This task requires cognitive flexibility—the ability to switch between two distinct sets of rules for behavior.” By comparing the behavior of different neuron ensembles to different choices the monkeys made, researchers were able to trace an individual decision back to a distinct thought. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Earl Miller, leader of the present study and neuroscience professor at MIT, said one of the biggest mysteries of cognition remains finding what mechanism controls the flow of thoughts always whizzing through your mind. Oscillations found by Miller in monkey neuron activity, however, may help explain the mind’s limited cognitive capacity and how one thought gains presence in the mind while others fade to the background. The study’s findings could help philosophers better understand the nature of the will and help medical professionals tackle diseases like schizophrenia, which is marked by irregular neuronal oscillations. 

Photo credit:


Up Next