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How the brain shops

Research locates neurons associated with valuing objects

5:10pm, January 4, 2011

Individual human brain cells can be savvy shoppers, tuning their behavior to precisely reflect the worth of a candy bar, finds a study published January 5 in The Journal of Neuroscience. Understanding how these bean-counting neurons operate may help scientists get a better idea of how the brain assigns value to objects.

Evaluating objects is “something we all do on a moment-to-moment basis,” says study coauthor Rick Jenison of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, but just how the human brain tallies up value isn’t clear.

To eavesdrop on the discerning human brain, Jenison and his team took advantage of a rare opportunity: human volunteers who are undergoing a procedure that uses electrodes to pinpoint the origin of severe seizures. As a by-product, these electrodes can also listen to the activity rates of single neurons in the amygdalae — a pair of almond-shaped structures located on each side of the brain — as the volunt

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