Human Errors Linked to "Brain-Default" Mode

NEWS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE April 30, 2008 Contact: Luke Frank, Media Relations Manager, 505/272-3679; cell 505/907-9525 Neuroimaging Predicts Errors for Rote Tasks ALBUQUERQUE , NM – A team of international researchers has detected consistently abnormal human brain activity as much as 30 seconds before committing a mistake when performing monotonous tasks. The study demonstrates how the brain appears to gradually shift into “default mode”, perhaps to enhance neurological efficiency while executing rote activities. By tracking the flow of blood and oxygen to specific parts of the brain using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), the team, led by Dr. Tom Eichele with the University of Bergen in Norway and Dr. Vince Calhoun with the Mind Research Network (MRN), showed changes in the flow of blood and oxygen to distinct areas of the brain approximately 30 seconds prior to committing an error. “We believe this phenomenon relates to one’s brain operating at peak efficiency – using only the resources necessary when performing redundant tasks,” Eichele asserts. “When confronted with rote tasks, the brain appears to enter a default mode usurping only the energy required. What we still hope to determine is whether or not this default mode is invoked due to brain fatigue or neurological economization – meaning more ‘brain power’ is unnecessary for such tasks.” The changes were discovered in two discreet brain networks – the Default Mode region and the frontal lobe region – as subjects were asked to respond to visual stimuli. The Default Mode region is normally active when one is relaxed and at rest; and the right frontal lobe related to cognitive control is more active when confronted with a new task. As a task became more redundant, the frontal lobe area showed less activity, and the default mode area increased in activity. Interestingly, after subjects committed and then detected an error, the brain re-engaged by enhancing activity in areas associated with in cognitive-task efforts, and reducing task-irrelevant brain activity in the default mode region. “There could be numerous, real-world applications in the future for this finding – from health care tasks, like counting pills to fill a prescription, to assembly line operations affecting thousands in a manufacturing plant – plus those who ultimately use the product,” Eichele adds. “Ultimately, perhaps, a warning system might be devised to alert users when they’re headed for a harmful or costly mistake.” The Mind Research Network is dedicated to advancing the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness and brain disorders. For information on the Mind Research Network, please call 505/272-5028 or

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