The brain at rest, how to optimize your future performance


The article entitled, The secret life of predictive brains: what's spontaneous activity for?was composed by a team of researchers from the CNR of Rome, the University of Padua Department of General Psychology and Department of Neuroscience, IRCCS Ospedale San Camillo Venice, the Padua Neuroscience Center, and the Veneto Institute of Molecular Medicine. The article hypothesizes that while the brain is at rest, and absent from performing particular tasks, that is functions at a class of computational algorithms called 'generative models' and that these spontaneous activities generate what is necessary to optimize learning and prepare one for future tasks.

When we are at rest, such as during sleep, or in the absence of particular tasks, our brain produces spontaneous activities that resemble recorded active behavior, but understanding the role of this behavior is still debated. The theoretical study published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences summarized the results of many behavioral, neurophysiological, and neuroimaging experiments with a possible description of this activity.

Giovanni Pezzulo of the CNR and Marco Zorzi of the Department of General Psychology of the University of Padua explains. “Generative models are widely used in Artificial Intelligence for their ability to spontaneously generate, in an allegorical sense 'an imagine', stimuli such as images or videos similar to those they have learned. Similarly, the 'generative model' of the brain is useful for solving particular tasks such as recognizing a face or planning an action while awake, but it also remains active when at rest. In this state, therefore in the absence of a specific task to be performed and any strong external stimuli, the spontaneous activity could serve to optimize the learning abilities and future performance of the brain."

"When we dream, spontaneous activity generates impressions, emotions, behaviors, and even moral judgments that are indistinguishable from those we perform while awake", concludes Prof. Maurizio Corbetta of the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Padua. "The brain consumes the most energy of all the organ of the body, at about 20-25% of the total metabolic energy against holding only 2% of body mass and largely depends on spontaneous activity. In analogy with the universe, in which the majority of the mass is invisible, spontaneous brain activity has been defined as the 'dark matter of the brain but its functions remain mysterious. Our hypothesis provides a new key to understanding these functions more deeply and we intend to test it further through new experiments and computational models.”