The brain works human hunger, says a study

March 8th, 2008 - 3:53 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, March 8 (IANS) You find chocolate-frosted doughnuts in the display window so tempting that you dart into the bakery and gorge yourself on these delicacies, though you had not planned it that way. New research from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine reveals how hunger works in the brain and the way neurons pull your strings to lunge for the sweet fried dough.

Aprajita Mohanty, co-author of the study said “there’s a very complex system in the brain that helps direct our attention to items in our environment that are relevant to our needs, for example, food when we are hungry but not when we are full.”

“If we didn’t have this part of the brain, every time you passed by a bakery you would have no control over your eating,” explained Mesulam of the Northwestern University.

Krispy Kremes, in perhaps their first starring role in neurological research, helped lead to the discovery. In the study, subjects were tested twice - once after gorging on up to eight Krispy Kreme doughnuts until they couldn’t eat anymore, and on another day after fasting for eight hours.

In both sessions, people were shown pictures of doughnuts and screwdrivers, while researchers examined their brains in MRIs.

When the subjects saw pictures of doughnuts after the eating binge, their brains didn’t register much interest. But after the fast, two areas of the brain leaped into action upon seeing the donuts.

“That part of the brain is able to detect what is motivationally significant. It says, not only am I hungry, but here is food,” said co-author Marsel Mesulam and Evelyn Dunbar.

Next, the brain’s spatial attention network shifted the hungry subject’s focus toward the new object of desire - in this case the Krispy Kremes.

Mesulam noted “if you are in a forest and you hear rustling, the context urges you to pay full attention since this could be a sign of danger,” he said.

“If you are in your office, the context makes the identical sound less relevant. A major job of the brain is to match response to context.”

The study was recently published online in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

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