ansebekinserceptors in the brain may help explain how alertness develops

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Feelings of alertness similar to that of night vision may signal the start of the next day according to scientists at the University of Cambridge.

The results may lead to new insights into how we learn and process information in the brain which are crucial for our ability to cope with life and our survival.

Normal alertness or awareness of impending danger occurs when we are aware of the presence of something to which we are accustomed (or have memorized it) and can be slowed down by thinking about it (for example when we pass through kitchens and are scared by the smell of food). Individuals experiencing alertness typically report feeling alert through the day and having difficulty in driving or operating machinery.

Neuroscientists from the Department of Psychology at Cambridge developed an artificial neural network that was able to detect alertness. Training the network with stimuli in the form of eye movements (eyes closed head turned out arms open etc) the brain learned to indicate an alert state.

The study was conducted on monkeys who were trained on a task that involved showing a series of images. Each image showed an arrow pointing downwards and was presented at the same time that the first arrow pointing to a certain direction was presented.

The change in alertness and functional activation to different colour patterns (e.g. alert and sad) indicated a change in the neural networks ability to focus on one of these forms of information.

The subjects showed an eye movement to indicate a visual motion when the first arrow was pointed in the opposite direction. This illustrated the learned technique to identify whether a gesture was caused by a change in coloured eye movement.

The results have been published in the journal eNeuro (Science Advances).

The authors say that the eye movements that were detected demonstrate that the brain learns not to focus on one form but rather that all forms are processed equally providing an insight into how humans learn information about the environment.

Although this network is a relatively simple network it shows that the brain generates a robust image processing network that targets and processes different forms of information depending on context says Jos Carlos Pizzagalli one of the authors of the study.

The network needed to detect impending danger was targeted to take into account the gaze as the first impulse the ability to judge an approaching persons intentions to hurt us Picogalli says. These instincts are learned in different parts of the brain suggesting an exploration of how we have evolved to rely on a particular brain area for alertness-the amygdala.

Previously it has been shown that the amygdala is involved in alertness and the perception and decision to avoid danger. Some research has also suggested that the amygdala and the brain (e.g. the prefrontal cortex) may expect positive events in the future (for example the right hand may move when hearing the voice of someone you know)

This research shows how the brain is capable of making reliable judgements about the context in which it is processing first-hand information Pizzagalli explains. More interestingly the results show us how the brain is able to change its general approach to handling threat behaviour.

This may be the main reason why humans are so good at detecting danger in other species and not so good at handling instinctive responses. It may also enable us to study mechanisms relevant to the evolution of our species to understand humans innate ability to learn from the world around us.