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"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.