A distinct alpha-wave pattern occurs in two brain regions just before subjects make mistakes on attention-demanding tests, according to a new study. From spilling a cup of coffee to failing to notice a stop sign, everyone makes an occasional error due to lack of attention. Now a team led by a researcher at the University of California, Davis, in collaboration with the Donders Institute in the Netherlands, has found a distinct electric signature in the brain which predicts that such an error is about to be made.
The discovery could prove useful in a variety of applications, from developing monitoring devices that alert air traffic control operators that their attention is flagging, to devising new strategies to help children cope with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The work will be posted online on March 23 by the journal Human Brain Mapping as part of a special issue highlighting innovations in electromagnetic brain imaging that will be published in May.
How the brain responds to mistakes has been the subject of numerous studies, said Ali Mazaheri, a research fellow at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain. “But what I was looking for was the state the brain is in before a mistake is made,” he said, “because that’s what can tell us what produces the error.”