Brain study points to ‘sixth sense’


Following the Asian tsunami, scientists struggled to explain reports that primitive aboriginal tribesmen had somehow sensed the impending danger in time to join wild animals in a life-saving flight to higher ground. A new theory suggests that the anterior cingulate cortex, described by some scientists as part of the brain’s “oops” center, may actually function as an early warning system — one that works at a subconscious level to help us recognize and avoid high-risk situations.

While some scientists discount the existence of a sixth sense for danger, new research from Washington University in St. Louis has identified a brain region that clearly acts as an early warning system — one that monitors environmental cues, weighs possible consequences and helps us adjust our behavior to avoid dangerous situations.

“Our brains are better at picking up subtle warning signs than we previously thought,” said Joshua Brown, Ph.D., a research associate in psychology in Arts & Sciences and co-author of a study on these findings in the Feb. 18 issue of the journal Science.

The findings offer rigorous scientific evidence for a new way of conceptualizing the complex executive control processes taking place in and around the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a brain area located near the top of the frontal lobes and along the walls that divide the left and right hemispheres.

“In the past, we found activity in the ACC when people had to make a difficult decision among mutually exclusive options, or after they made a mistake,” Brown said. “But now we find that this brain region can actually learn to recognize when you might make a mistake, even before a difficult decision has to be made. So the ACC appears to act as an early warning system — it learns to warn us in advance when our behavior might lead to a negative outcome, so that we can be more careful and avoid making a mistake.”

Implications for mental illness

The ACC has been the focus of intensive scientific research in recent years because it plays a critical role in the brain’s processing of especially complex and challenging cognitive tasks. Abnormalities in the region are closely associated with a host of serious mental problems, including schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Researchers provided study participants with a series of blue or white cues and asked them to push one button or another depending on the direction of arrows. Brain imaging suggested that an area of the brain had learned to recognize that blue cues indicated a greater potential for error, thus providing an early warning signal that negative consequences were likely to follow their behavior.

By providing a clearer picture of the cognitive mechanisms by which we self monitor and control our behavior, the study is an important step in efforts to develop more effective treatments for mental illness. It also provides a new way of understanding inappropriate behaviors that often accompany mental illnesses.

“Our results suggest how impairment of the ACC mechanisms in schizophrenia can lead to breakdowns in the early warning system, so that the brain fails to pre-empt or control inappropriate behavior,” Brown said. “On the other hand, in individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder, the ACC might warn of an impending problem even when no problem is imminent.”

“Interestingly, we also found evidence that the same neurotransmitter involved in drug addiction and Parkinson’s disease, namely dopamine, seems to play a key role in training the ACC to recognize when to send the early warning signal,” he added.

Known to be an important component of the brain’s executive control system, the ACC is believed to help mediate between cold, hard, fact-based reasoning and emotional responses, such as love, fear or anticipation.

“For a long time we’ve been interested in how the brain figures out how to integrate cognitive information about the world with our emotions, how we feel about something,” Brown said. “For many reasons, people think the ACC might be the brain structure responsible for converging these different signals. It seems to be an area that’s involved in deciding what information gets prioritized in the decision-making process. It seems able to link motivational and affect information – things like goodness or badness – and to use this information to bring about changes in cognition, to alter how we think about things.”

New paradigm for brain’s “oops” region

While there is growing consensus about the important role played by the cingulate in complex thoughts and feelings, there are competing theories regarding the cognitive mechanisms that underlie activity there.

Recent studies have documented spikes of activity in the ACC just as people realize that they’ve made a mistake of some kind, a sensation some describe as the “oops” moment (or, in more informal terms, as the “Oh S***” response). Theories based on these findings suggest that the primary role of the ACC is to help detect and subsequently correct mistakes or, alternatively, to detect the state of high-conflict that often accompanies mistakes”

Brown’s study, co-authored with Todd Braver, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences, offers compelling evidence that the ACC is better understood as a pre-emptive early warning system, one that is actively working to help us anticipate the potential for mistakes and thus avoid them altogether.

“We started with the premise that perhaps the cingulate was not responding to the detection of an error or state of conflict, but maybe instead what the cingulate is detecting is the likelihood of making an error,” Brown said. “We wanted to see if the cingulate would become more active even in situations where no conflict is presented and no errors are made, but the potential for error is still higher than normal”

Methodology

To test their hypothesis, Brown and Braver developed an experiment requiring healthy young people to respond to a series of cues on a computer screen. Participants were presented with either a white or a blue dash, which soon changed into a small arrow pointing either right or left. They were instructed to quickly push one of two buttons depending on the arrow’s direction. To simulate conflict, researchers occasionally slipped in a larger second arrow that required participants to change gears and push the opposite button.

“The idea is that at some point you have these competing tendencies – to push the right or left button — and both are active in brain at same time, which creates conflict,” explains Brown. “Some theories suggest that whenever you see these two arrows, then that drives this state of conflict and it’s the state of conflict that is being detected by the cingulate.”

By increasing the delay before presentation of the larger second arrow, researchers raised the odds that an individual would reach “the point of no return” and thus be unable to change gears in time to avoid pushing the wrong button. They then adjusted the delay time over many trials so that each participant eventually exhibited error rates of about 50 percent when provided with an initial blue priming dash, compared with error rates of only 4 percent when presented with a white priming dash.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers captured images of brain activity at 2.5-second intervals throughout the experiment.

“We didn’t tell them that the white or blue cue offered any clue about their likelihood of making an error on any particular trial, but by the end of the session, some of them had begun to figure it out, at least on a subconscious level,” Brown said.

Even among those who remained relatively unaware of the blue cue’s significance, researchers found that simply showing the blue color was eventually enough to spark increased activity in the cingulate, and that this effect strengthened over time as the subject became more familiar with the task. Thus, brain imaging confirmed that the ACC had “learned” the significance of the blue cue, and had begun, at least subconsciously, to adjust behaviors accordingly, the study found.

“It appears that this area of the brain is somehow figuring out things without you necessarily having to be consciously aware of it,” Brown said. “It makes sense that this mechanism exists because there are plenty of situations in our everyday lives that require the brain to monitor subtle changes in our environment and adjust our behavior, even in cases where we may not be necessarily aware of the conditions that prompted the adjustment. In some cases, the brain’s ability to monitor subtle environmental changes and make adjustments may actually be even more robust if it takes place on a subconscious level.”

Computer model of brain spurs new discoveries

In addition to its findings, the study is significant within scientific circles because of its use of sophisticated computer models to accurately predict the patterns of brain activation that would be sparked by the experiment, patterns only later confirmed by the imaging data from actual real-world trials.

“We started by building a detailed computer simulation of the ACC, and then we found that the computer predicted the existence of the early warning signal in ACC,” Brown said. “This was an exciting result, but we still needed to test the prediction in humans to demonstrate that the model prediction was correct.”

The researchers also tested their theory using another computer model that had been previously developed to support an existing theory of the ACC as a system focused on conflict resolution.

“By simulating both models we could then adjudicate between them and do so in a way where we forced each one to make predictions that we only tested after the fact,” Brown said. “By integrating the theory, the computational simulation and then the fMRI testing, we are providing other scientists with some very rigorous evidence that our new theory is accurate.”

During the last two decades, as computers have become much more powerful, computer modeling has become an increasingly powerful tool for understanding the brain, said Brown, noting that findings from this study offer a nice example of how computer models of the brain can lead to new discoveries.

“In fact, our computer model also makes some other exciting predictions about how the ACC works, but we haven’t had an opportunity to test them yet,” Brown said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

From Washington University in St. Louis


39 Responses to Brain study points to ‘sixth sense’

  1. Josh August 28, 2012 at 4:54 am #

    The brain should be thought of like another part of your body in the same way your arm interprets touch and sensation, the brain creates an intellectual realm of the ‘mind’ where humans create a hub for collect the information gathered by the other 5 sense to base opinions, data, and future interactions based off of that. It’s pretty amazing, once realizing how free we really are in our minds.

  2. ivesjoe August 15, 2011 at 10:41 pm #

    The topic is quite interesting! I believe in the sixth sense but it’s still made confuse of its issues. Good thing I have an iPad that allow movie to Download Movie to iPad. I really have fun because the movie i have just watched is quite associated with sixth sense.

  3. Tim Griffin June 1, 2011 at 4:14 am #

    Think how it would be to use 90% or why not 100% of our brain. How would we feel? How amazing it would be? Or our brain cannot support that amount of information. Something like that was in movie Limitless. Try it, it’s good. invitatii nunta

  4. vallaree arya April 23, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

    it was wonderfull to find out such developments being made in parapsychology, keep up the good work people…

  5. John March 21, 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    I fully believe there could be a six sense. I do feel that experience does offer this in some way. Past experience with a dangerous situation or things that show dangerous cues always set me off so I believe it. gifts for men and gifts for women and gifts for kids. Cheers.

  6. abhay February 1, 2011 at 2:02 am #

    u r very funny

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  8. Faris Hussain January 16, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    I think the huge part of article is related to magnetic/electrical output

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  9. atif January 15, 2011 at 7:37 pm #

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  11. GCODES August 30, 2010 at 5:59 am #

    I always believed that the humans do have a sixth sense.

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  12. okan August 16, 2010 at 5:38 pm #

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  13. efayrs7yrd July 15, 2010 at 6:58 am #

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  14. Daniel July 14, 2010 at 11:47 pm #

    Our mind has various functions we are unaware of all these years of technology evolution. But still we no very less. Psychological Disorders

  15. Jay July 5, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    I have experimented over a life time with my 6th sense. My abilities are to numerous (the stories) to list here. I have come to find a voice or spirit that lies within that never leads me in a wrong direction when I listen.

  16. Kenith James June 17, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

    I always believed that the humans do have a sixth sense. Now is it spirtual or science will be a debate till science is proven.

  17. Anonymous February 15, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

    It’s the dopamine idiot!

  18. mattb December 14, 2009 at 8:35 pm #

    Our brains are amazing! This kind of research and articles really interests me as i have all kinds of weird things happening to me that are hard to explain…..

    “It appears that this area of the brain is somehow figuring out things without you necessarily having to be consciously aware of it,” Brown said.

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  19. Anonymous December 1, 2009 at 7:16 pm #

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  20. DVDBoxset November 14, 2009 at 6:59 am #

    Sixth sense! It is never easy to explain how our brains works tremendously.It gives us miracles,a thought that would follow our instinct of the heart.This research article is very useful,the theories are well explained.This would also makes a human being aware of what will happened next,following the heart of mind.The domain receptors and neurotransmitters work tremendously well,thanks to HIM the great creator of all mankind,that we have special brains that connected to our body.It also helps in making decision planning,overall sis sense is always a great help to every individuals,neither good nor bad.

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  21. dsdownloads November 9, 2009 at 11:13 am #

    Seix Sense was one of the best movies I have ever seen. DS Downloads

  22. sharoncollinsr November 1, 2009 at 7:48 pm #

    Agreed, Our brains are better at picking up subtle warning signs than we previously thought. good to see abnormalities in the region are closely associated with a host of serious mental problems, including schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
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  23. Anonymous August 6, 2009 at 5:09 am #

    What do you mean, explain please.

  24. Anonymous August 5, 2009 at 10:20 am #

    As discussed above, i have also met with similar incidents where i am able to predict things that are going to take place. Usually i receives a warning message when something good or bad is gonna happen. But i was going through some e-notes regarding this and m moving into more confused state.

    Can anyone mention any link to some good notes regarding this?

    Many Thanks,
    Jo

  25. Anonymous March 16, 2009 at 12:12 am #

    In fact, the premonitions and early warnings might be exactly what an addict would choose as a basis for further destruction. One of a number of treatments available (specifically, suboxone treatment) also works on the same dopamine receptors and neurotransmitters that might affect the ACC. Has any research been done to examine what effects such treatment might have on the ACC?

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  26. Anonymous February 18, 2009 at 4:41 am #

    It wasn’t sixth sense. You will find the answer below:

    WHO IS GOD?

    ¤ Through everything that exists in the universe, it is the Almighty God that expresses itself.
    ¤ Reality we know about the beginning of life in the universe, it’s the Big Bang, followed by evolution.
    ¤ Meanwhile, there is God with His theory of creation. Genesis 1:1-2 : In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. It’s a chaos that looks like the one of the universe before the Big Bang, God added.
    ¤ These two theories ate not incompatible. Genesis 2:7 gives us the key: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. This means that we are nothing but dust. Without the ‘breath of life’, we have no existence.
    ¤ What does breath of life means? Something immaterial which is: life, intelligence, energy and consciousness. We can find it in an atom, a molecule, a cell…
    ¤ If we can find this immaterial thing in an atom that has no conscience of being, what about man? And man being ‘homo sapiens’, this thing should also have conscience of being.
    ¤ If in an atom, we can find: life, intelligence, energy, consciousness ; it means that God is a reality within us. He’s in every cell of our body.
    ¤ If he’s really with us, why don’t we feel his presence? Just because he’s not what we think of him.
    ¤ Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” It’s a lie! He didn’t create us. He’s within the matter, not out of it. Moreover, he wants to hide his presence within us. Why? Because he surely have a hidden agenda for us!
    ¤ Matthew 6:13: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…” He firstly induces us in error. Why? Because for His beautiful plan for us.
    ¤ Genesis 3:17-19: “And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” That’s it! The beautiful plan of God! His promise. He’s really sincere because that’s what 99.99% of human beings live daily.
    ¤ Genesis 3:22: “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” He’s vigilant! He won’t spare us. How vindictive he is! Why?
    ¤ Genesis: 3:19: “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” Because He despises us!
    Conclusion: Through everything that exists in the universe, it’s life that expresses itself. Then who is God, Satan… ? Just the breath of life within you that personifies itself to be everything since the creation.

    You want to know more, go to the original document in French at: http://originedesmythes.blogspot.com/.

  27. Anonymous January 20, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    yeah well then why are we nuts?

  28. tiberiu October 29, 2008 at 9:11 am #

    Many people are afraid of drug addiction treatment and run away from it as fast as they can… The thing they don’t realise is that running away from your problem, won’t solve the maze that you are spinning in for along time, unless of course you go to a professional and seek help or just try as a matter of fact… Trying is the first step in admitting that you have a problem.

  29. Anonymous October 23, 2008 at 11:24 am #

    The meth addict is completely insane, of course you hear people’s thoughts…. you’re a paranoid meth head… no offense, but I think you should wait a couple months to clear your head. I don’t think you have a “sixth sense.” I just think you’re a crazy meth head who is hearing dellusions

  30. Anonymous October 23, 2008 at 11:21 am #

    You’re nuts.

  31. Anonymous June 4, 2008 at 4:13 am #

    its good to hear u enjoyed “sixth sense”. i m a film maker and i m making ” the real sixth sense” can u give me more tips about sixth sense other then the movie..

  32. Anonymous April 7, 2008 at 8:40 am #

    HEY PPL CAN ANY ONE SEND ME THE DOCTORS MAIL ID WHO CAN GIVE ME SUGGESTIONS OR WHO DEALS WITH THIS TOPIC.

    IF ANY ONE IS THERE PLZ SEND THE DOCTORS MAIL ID 2 THIS MAIL ADDRESS.

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  33. Anonymous February 22, 2008 at 5:19 am #

    I enjoyed the movie The Sixth Sense, and Bruce Willis’ performance, especially because there was a deep human and moral message to the movie, more than just science-fiction. I found that this “sixth sense” is documented on various sites or in psychology today.

  34. Anonymous February 5, 2008 at 5:01 am #

    Does anyone have any other good links to this topic ?
    It would be appreciated. Thankyou :)

  35. Anonymous October 29, 2007 at 3:59 pm #

    The note that stimulation of the dopamine receptors might also lead to impairment of the ACC was really interesting. I’ve done a lot of work with people struggling with opiate addiction and my initial reaction was that many addicts & alcoholics with a perfectly normally-functioning ACC may still choose to self-sabotage in the face of premonitions and early warnings. In fact, the premonitions and early warnings might be exactly what an addict would choose as a basis for further destruction. One of a number of treatments available (specifically, suboxone treatment) also works on the same dopamine receptors and neurotransmitters that might affect the ACC. Has any research been done to examine what effects such treatment might have on the ACC?

  36. Gary Wesselhoff June 28, 2007 at 10:07 am #

    Has anyone studied or quantified the magnetic/electrical output radiating from our brains? Chemical/electrical in nature, there always is energy radiation to some degree no matter how minimal.

    We can hear and interpret countless RF (radio) signals surrounding us at any second in our life with the right equipment–TV, Radio, Walkie-Talkie, or 802.11b war scanner.

    A WiFi device (such as laptop computer) hears ALL of these frequencies, but anything other than what is in the 2.4ghz range considers them noise. No matter HOW FAINT the signal is, like the brain, it can pluck those vibrations out of the air and isolate them from all the other vibrations that are “entangled” with and USE them.

    To a degree with the right equipment we might also do the same with the brain.

    ESP is not quantifiable, but the transmission link might be.

  37. Jo June 28, 2007 at 1:43 am #

    As discussed above, i have also met with similar incidents where i am able to predict things that are going to take place. Usually i receives a warning message when something good or bad is gonna happen. But i was going through some e-notes regarding this and m moving into more confused state.

    Can anyone mention any link to some good notes regarding this?

    Many Thanks,
    Jo

  38. Anonymous October 12, 2006 at 6:36 am #

    I was addicted to Amphetamine, for just over a year. I was given the drug by a friend, and I agreed to use it the once.

    I have to say I was hooked on the drug from the first use, and continued to use the drug. This eventually lead to a diagnosed, “Paranoid Psychosis”, and a nervous breakdown.

    I stopped taking the drug immediately, as advised by my Doctor.

    In the next few months to follow, during my self rehabilitation I noticed that I could predict the future or at least know what other people were thinking, within a few meters of my person. I am very conscious of my surroundings, at thought level. I feel very paranoid, sometimes if i am out in public. I can sense things that I cannot explain. I feel negative emotions like hate, fear etc, more than positive ones.

    I think that my psychotic state was in fact my confused brain, trying to work out what is real and what thoughts were not real. This confused my brain, and it over loaded.

    It is very difficult to explain, but this happens to often and to accurately to be solely coincidence. I can look at someone and sometimes communicate with them at thought level. I hear their voice in my head as a thought. This is not auditory. If I say the thought out loud, they look at me funny, and say that they were just thinking it.

    This sixth sense, is very real. I found the following part of the article interesting, as this started happening later, formed from my drug addiction.

    “Interestingly, we also found evidence that the same neurotransmitter involved in drug addiction and Parkinson’s disease, namely dopamine, seems to play a key role in training the ACC to recognize when to send the early warning signal,” he added.

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