PerspectiveNeuroscience

To Stop or Not to Stop?

Science  03 Feb 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6068, pp. 546-548
DOI: 10.1126/science.1218170

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Summary

The traffic light turns from green to yellow. With just one car between you and the intersection, your brain sprints into action, calculating distances and relative velocities; checking for hurried pedestrians; simulating the mental processes of the driver in front of you; and readying every muscle in preparation for a split-second decision that could literally change your life: Which pedal? So many of our mental processes, at any given moment, rely upon this constant, “high stakes” computation involving powerful impulses on one hand and inhibitory control on the other. This balancing act of neuronal signals is at the core of complex human behaviors and thus, its malfunction could have a range of adverse medical and social consequences. On page 601 of this issue, Ersche et al. (1) identify common abnormalities in fronto-striatal brain systems associated with poorer self-control in both drug-dependent individuals and their nonaddicted siblings.