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Monday, July 30, 2012

When Rules Change, Brain Tends to Make Many Mistakes

brain cap
A cap worn by subjects in a Michigan State University experiment picks up EEG signals at the scalp; the signals are then transmitted via optical cable to a computer where the data is stored for analysis. Photo by G.L. Kohuth
Imagine when you are in a country, where you get used to driving on the left, then you go to a country where people drive on the right. You will force your brain to suppress the old habits and focus on the new rules. Although this is an illustration, but the illustration is widely experienced by some people. They have been burdening their brains.

“There’s so much conflict in your brain,” said Schroder, “that when you make a mistake like forgetting to turn on your blinker you don’t even realize it and make the same mistake again. What you learned initially is hard to overcome when rules change.”

A study conducted by philosophy researchers from Michigan State University's reveals how the brain responds to mistakes that occur after the rule change.

The researchers gave participants a computer task. They were asked to identify the middle letter of "NNMNN" or "MMNMM". If “M” was in the middle, they were to press the left button; if “N” was in the middle, they were to press the right. After 50 trials, the rules were reversed so the participants had to press the right button if “M” was in the middle and the left if “N” was in the middle.

Participants made more repeated errors when the rules were reversed, meaning they weren’t learning from their mistakes. In addition, a cap measuring brain activity showed they were less aware of their errors. When participants did respond correctly after the rules changed, their brain activity showed they had to work harder than when they were given the first set of rules.

“We expected they were going to get better at the task over time,” said Schroder, a graduate student in MSU’s Department of Psychology. “But after the rules changed they were slower and less accurate throughout the task and couldn’t seem to get the hang of it.”

Continually making these mistakes in the work environment can lead to frustration, exhaustion and even anxiety and depression, said Jason Moser, assistant professor of psychology and director of MSU’s Clinical Psychophysiology Lab.

“These findings and our past research suggest that when you have multiple things to juggle in your mind – essentially, when you are multitasking – you are more likely to mess up,” Moser said. “It takes effort and practice for you to be more aware of the mistakes you are missing and stay focused.”

This article had edited by authors of threelas

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