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Consciousness Helps the Mind and Body Work Together

Research explores how brain picks best way to react to messages from muscle

FRIDAY, Oct. 2, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- New research provides insight into how the brain resolve such dilemmas as whether you should drop a plate that's burning your fingers or keep holding it to keep the food off the floor.

In a study in the October issue of Emotion, scientists say that the human mind acts as way station for requests from different parts of the body. In some cases, you're only aware of some of the urges that the body sends to the brain.

"If the brain is like a set of computers that control different tasks, consciousness is the Wi-Fi network that allows different parts of the brain to talk to each other and decide which action 'wins' and is carried out," the study's lead author, Ezequiel Morsella, a San Francisco State University assistant professor of psychology, said in a news release from the university.

According to the researchers, the brain only tells the conscious self about some of the competing messages it gets from muscles in the body. They say they confirmed this by studying people as they made choices about movements.

The findings support Morsella's theory that consciousness serves primarily to process demands from skeletal muscle, the researchers concluded. The theory also states that consciousness helps people adapt; for example, using an oven mitt the next time you have to carry a hot plate.

"Our findings add to the growing body of evidence that when you prepare to perform two competing actions, you prime the same areas of the brain associated with carrying out that same action," Morsella said.

In a previous study, Morsella used brain scans to find regions of the brain where changes in awareness related to conflicting urges are found.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more on the brain.

SOURCE: San Francisco State University, news release, Sept. 30, 2009
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