Stanford Researchers Learn How the Brain Decides What to Learn

October 31, 2018
Hertz Staff

Stanford News Service
Oct. 25, 2018

In order to learn about the world, an animal needs to do more than just pay attention to its surroundings. It also needs to learn which sights, sounds and sensations in its environment are the most important and monitor how the importance of those details change over time. Yet how humans and other animals track those details has remained a mystery.

Now, a team at Stanford that includes Hertz Fellow Will Allen report in the Oct. 26 issue of Science, that they think they’ve figured out how animals sort through the details. A part of the brain called the paraventricular thalamus, or PVT, serves as a kind of gatekeeper, making sure that the brain identifies and tracks the most salient details of a situation. Although the research is confined to mice for now, the results could one day help researchers better understand how humans learn or even help treat drug addiction.