Scientists win prize for brain research

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Three UK-based scientists have won a prestigious prize worth 1m euros for studying the brain’s reward centre.

Their work helps explain what drives common human behaviours.

Reward is necessary for keeping us alive, but it can also spiral out of control leading to gambling and drug addiction.

Wolfram Schultz, Peter Dayan and Ray Dolan said winning The Brain Prize – the biggest in the field of neuroscience – was a “great honour”.

Prof Schultz is planning a holiday with the family, but his co-winners are still trying to figure out how to spend their prize money from Denmark’s Lundbeck Foundation.


Our lives are spent constantly making decisions – should I eat in that restaurant, where should I go on holiday, should I apply for a new job, should I keep reading this story or move on?

One of the winners, Prof Peter Dayan from UCL, told the BBC: “Reward is exactly how we optimise those choices.

“Animals of all different sorts have to be able to predict things that are going to be good or going to bad and choose actions in light of those predictions.”

The trio’s work over three decades has unravelled the critical role of the brain chemical dopamine.

It triggers a set of brain cells to respond whenever there is a reward. And eventually the brain responds even in anticipation of the reward.

“This makes us go for more reward and individuals that have more reward have a higher chance of survival,” said Prof Wolfram Schulz, at the University of Cambridge.

He added: “This is the biological process that makes us want to buy a bigger car or house, or be promoted at work.”

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