Article first published as New Study Shows How Winning Affects The Brain on Technorati.

So says a Yale study published in the October 6 issue of Neuron, a journal that investigates genetics and the brain. It has reexamined the reward pathways of the brain that are conventionally associated with the basal ganglia, a center brain region responsible for decisions to act and dopamine which is thought to process rewarding and ineffective actions.When we want to win all parts of the brain become engaged.

This brain study used a multi-voxel pattern analysis to analyze fMRI data to determine patterns in brain function throughout the brain rather than confining the data to the cerebral cortex. This study evaluated subjects playing either matching-pennies or rock-paper-scissors games to determine whether reward and punishment perceptions presented themselves in a particular part of the brain or whether there were other patterns at work.

The scientists discovered that when playing a game to win, the entire brain is active, not part of it.  They also discovered that all parts of the brain showed patterns of response to reward and punishment.

“While it is likely that the basal ganglia and its projections are responsible for the core functions of reward-related processing, many other brain regions are at least provided with this information,” concludes Dr. Timothy Vickery from the Department of Psychology at Yale and lead scientist on this study. “This suggests an imperative to study the effects of reinforcement and punishment in domains where they are not usually considered as important factors — from low-level sensory systems to high-level social reasoning. Such distributed representations would have adaptive value for optimizing many types of cognitive processes and behavior in the natural world.”

What this means is not yet clear. We, humans, are continually engaging with our environment, and adapting to changes in it.  Over time, our brain evolves strategies for dealing with successes and failures.  However, the study demonstrates that our games and contests may hold greater implication for our identity and social functioning. This study seems to indicate that our brain, even in a competitive activity, operated holistically and that may suggest new ways to understand ourselves.

Sources: Winning Affects the Entire Brain, Medical News Today, October, 7, 2011

About Maria Hill

Maria Hill is the founder of Sensitive Evolution. She is the author of The Emerging Sensitive: A Guide For Finding Your Place In The World. In addition, she has created the immersive Emerging Sensitive Program of "sensory processing yoga" using frameworks to help sensitive people master their sensitivity and turn it into the asset it can be. She also offers the Emerging Sensitive Movie Club focused on movies and discussions about living in the world as a sensitive person and navigating the challenging cultural shifts of our times. She is a longtime meditator, reiki master, student of alternative health and Ayurveda. Maria is also an abstract painter whose portfolio can be found at Infinite Shape and also very interested in animal and human rights and the environment.