“The researchers say understanding this process of chemical signaling may shed light on how the brain reacts to its environment …”
I agree. It would enable the understanding of the epigenetic effects of nutrient chemicals and pheromones that alter intracellular signaling and stochastic gene expression. Those alterations are required to link the external sensory environment directly to the nerve cells in the developing brain that control its nutrient chemical and pheromone-dependent development.
In my model for the epigenetic effects of food odors and pheromones, for example, gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) acts both as a hormone and a neurotransmitter. Classical conditioning of the hormone response enables the rapid response to odors that is associated with operant conditioning, which has no direct effect on any hormones or neurotransmitters that affect behavior. Clearly, there are no direct receptor-mediated events in hormone-secreting nerve cells of brain tissue that are known to be caused by operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is like training, and there are no training receptors.
All examples of cause and effect that others might consider meaningful from reports on the operant conditioning of behavior are simply indirect affects on behavior via their required associations with classical conditioning. That makes free will a function of operant conditioning while the classical conditioning of GnRH-modulated neurotransmission exemplifies the incentive salience of Pavlovian conditioning. It is this incentive salience that predicts what may or may not be accomplished by psychologists with no understanding of cause and effect.
Simply put, most psychologists treat disorders of behavioral development as if they were a matter of choice. For example, with alcohol addiction, they have no concept of the difference between classical conditioning to the odor of ethanol, for example, and operant conditioning of the associated rewards, which are indirectly hormone associated, not directly hormone-driven.
My attempts to get psychologists to understand the difference between classical conditioning, which requires a biologically relevant sensory stimulus, and operant conditioning, which requires only willy-nilly (e.g., tone and shock) pairings have failed (see for example). No psychologist I have attempted to educate seems willing to admit that they don’t know the difference between Pavlovian/classical conditioning and operant/respondent conditioning, perhaps because that would be an admission that they have never treated their clients effectively, which is well known to others whose psychological treatment has failed.