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Pre-Mistake Brainwaves

April 15, 2009

Brainwaves can signal when your attention is wandering, making some mistakes more likely.


Seeing your mind wander. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Mistakes can happen when you stop paying attention to what you’re doing. Now, neuroscientist Ali Mazaheri and his colleagues have actually seen people’s minds wander, by watching their brain waves. While at the Donders Institute in the Netherlands, Mazaheri’s team studied people playing a long, dull computer game. The rule was to hit a key when they saw any number except five.

ALI MAZAHERI (University of California, Davis):
A second before the 5 was presented, in trials in which there was an error, there was larger alpha activity in posterior regions and motor regions.

Another brainwave, called the mu rhythm, also spiked in the brain’s motor control area. Mazaheri says the changes may signal when your attention fades. He says that in the future, devices could look out for these signals in people like air traffic controllers, who can’t afford to space out on the job. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.