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When the stress is too great, the brain protests

The researchers claim to have identified a change in the activity of neurons in the motor cortex, which may put you at greater risk of failure when the stakes are particularly high. The motor cortex is the area of ​​the brain that plans and executes movements.

Everyone was able to experience situations in which the prospect of a reward becomes a motivator to “perform” better. But also in other situations where the pressure to succeed becomes too strong: it contributes to a mistake, a wrong maneuver, or a distraction. The typical example, in hockey or soccer, is the penalty kick, which can decide the fate of the match.

But researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania did not want to test this in human brains, but in the brains of rhesus monkeys. in their research Recently published—which means it has not yet been reviewed by other experts—they describe a series of experiments that involved having these monkeys perform a challenging task for which they could earn a reward: sugar water. The failure rate increased… with the value of the reward.

in 2021They ran a series of experiments with similar results, but this time, they examined the monkeys’ brain activity at the same time, via microelectrodes. It shows that the activity of these neurons increased when the monkey saw that a larger reward was possible, and decreased in the case of smaller rewards.

Analysis of this activity made it possible to identify the ‘signature’ of the ‘planning’ of the movements. However, when the reward was the highest, the difference between this planning and the actual movement became blurred. “We conclude that signals from neurons involved in reward planning and movement interact in the motor cortex in a way that explains why we collapse under stress.”

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As to whether there is a biological reason why the brain behaves this way, neurons don’t give away their secrets. Perhaps it’s dopamine, sometimes called the happiness hormone — a molecule that some of our nerve cells produce to send messages to other areas of the brain. An overproduction of this molecule can “unbalance the motor cortex at the crucial moment,” speculate on new world One of the co-authors. Certainly, researchers are convinced that the same thing happens to humans when they also collapse under stress.

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