Brain Waves Can Predict Mistakes

Just before you make a mistake, your brain actually gives off a warning sign. This discovery could lead to the development of devices that alert air traffic controllers that their attention is flagging, researchers said.

A team of scientists at the University of California, Davis, worked with the Donders Institute in the Netherlands to study students’ brain activity during an attention-demanding test. Using a non-invasive technique called magnetoencephalography (MEG), which is similar to but more sensitive than an EEG — the technique commonly used in hospitals to detect seizures — the researchers recorded the students’ brain waves during a monotonous test.

The research team found about a second before errors were committed, brain waves in two regions were stronger than when the subjects correctly completed the task. The team also found errors triggered immediate changes in wave activity in the front region of the brain, which appeared to drive down alpha wave activity in the rear region.

“It looks as if the brain is saying, ‘Pay attention!’ and then reducing the likelihood of another mistake,” Ali Mazaheri, a research fellow at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain was quoted as saying.

Mazaheri said he expects this discovery to quickly result in practical applications, such as a wireless EEG that could be deployed to an air traffic controller’s station to trigger an alert when it senses the alpha activity is beginning to regularly exceed a certain level. It could also lead to new therapies for children with ADHD.

SOURCE: Study published online on March 23, 2009 by the journal Human Brain Mapping

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