Dobbins emphasized that "these findings don't really eliminate the idea of tuning, but they lead to another way of looking at learning. They suggest that the brain is set up to circumvent the algorithmic or deliberative processes of decision making wherever possible.
"For example, the task of adding numbers by counting them up is very time-intensive and requires a lot of attention. Since the brain has limited resources, it means the brain can't do other things. So, in bypassing this and similar general algorithms wherever possible, the brain not only executes responses more rapidly, but it uses fewer resources enabling one to attend to other problems in the environment."
According to Dobbins, the researchers' finding contributes to a basic understanding of the difference between "executive control" strategies that govern responses involving recovery of information and conscious deliberation -- versus those that appear to be governed by rapidly recovering and executing prior responses without the need for reflection.
The new findings could enrich understanding of the learning and memory process, he said. Also, the discovery opens new research pathways to understanding the neural machinery underlying the object-related deliberative strategy of processing information versus the automatic strategy, and how the brain rapidly switches from one to the other.