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Brain Patterns Predict Mistakes
Date:4/23/2008

ify -- as fast as possible -- whether or not each successive picture displayed central and peripheral arrows pointing together or inversely. The researchers noted that typically when arrows do not all point in the same direction response time slows and becomes less accurate.

About 400 rounds of the flanker task exercise were conducted, and an analysis of fMRI brain scans taken during the test revealed that prior to the commission of an error, the brain launched two simultaneous activities in two distinct brain regions.

The first site of activity was the frontal lobe of the brain, which controls cognition and working memory. A boost in this region's activity usually occurs to optimize a person's ability to maintain and complete tasks. However, before making of a mistake, this area was found to gradually ratchet down its activity.

At the same time as frontal lobe action decreased, activity actually increased in a second grouping of several regions in the back of the brain, known as the "Default Mode Network" (DMN). In this particular region, an increase in activity is usually linked to a resting or relaxed state of mind.

The twin brain actions were found to initiate at least six seconds before a mistake took place, and as early as 30 seconds prior to an error.

Though Eichele and his team had tallied an 8 percent to 9 percent overall error rate in the flanker test, they stressed that not all the committed errors were linked to such synchronized brain patterns. However, when the up/down regional sequencing unfolded, it appeared to raise the risk for making an error by 50 percent.

"This pattern is not the sole causal factor for mistakes," said Eichele. "But it's a contributing factor, that might relate to the brain being tired and needing a break. For now, we're continuing our research. But you can already imagine that some day we might be able to measure this phenomenon in people as they go along performing re
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