Boring tasks really do numb the brain

It would indeed seem that monotonous chores really do put the brain in a kind of “stand-by or sleep” mode. Even though the mistakes that result from this are often without consequence, in many professions, such as those of crane operators and airplane pilots for example, their impact can be quite disastrous.

It would indeed seem that monotonous chores really do put the brain in a kind of “stand-by or sleep” mode. Even though the mistakes that result from this are often without consequence, in many professions, such as those of crane operators and airplane pilots for example, their impact can be quite disastrous.

These human errors are often attributed to a momentary lapse in concentration. A new study suggests however that a localized change in brain activity is likely implicated in this phenomenon, and that it is detectable up to 30 seconds before a wrong move is actually made. This discovery will likely eventually be used to predict and prevent blunders.

A group of researchers had participants perform a test in which they had to react rapidly to visual clues. During this time, their brain activity was recorded with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) device which allowed them to detect any blood flow changes in various areas of the brain. When the exercise was performed correctly, the brains of the volunteers showed an increased level of activity in the regions associated with cognitive effort. While these areas became less active a certain period of time before mistakes were made, other areas became more active. It is as if the brain actually puts itself in a “stand-by” mode to conserve energy, which leads to a lapse in vigilance.

Armed with this discovery, these scientists hope to develop a device that would be worn on the head and that would give an early warning sign to workers in critical situations before their vigilance decreases. They believe their device would be particularly useful to prevent mistakes in repetitive jobs.

Are you making too many gaffes in your daily, monotonous chores? If so, you should not await this device with bated breath! Further tests, studies and technological improvements will be required before such a device becomes available on the market.

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