As they try to find the best reward among options, some people explore based on how uncertain they are about the outcome of the options. Those who employ that thought process, unlike people who use other strategies, uniquely harness the computational power of the rostrolateral prefrontal cortex, a new study finds.
Life shrouds most choices in mystery. Some people inch toward a comfortable enough spot and stick close to that rewarding status quo. Out to dinner, they order the usual. Others consider their options systematically or randomly. But many choose to grapple with the uncertainty head on. “Explorers” order the special because they aren’t sure they’ll like it. It’s a strategy of maximizing rewards by discovering whether as yet unexplored options might yield better returns. In a new study, Brown University researchers show that such explorers use a specific part of their brain to calculate the relative uncertainty of their choices, while non-explorers do not.