Working with colleagues at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior at Radboud University, where he was a Ph.D student at the time, Mazaheri recruited 14 students into his study. While they took an attention-demanding test, Mazaheri recorded their brain activity using MEG — magnetoencephalography — a non-invasive brain-wave recording technique similar to, but more sensitive than electroencephalography (EEG), the technique commonly used in hospitals to detect seizures.
The test, known as the “sustained attention response task,” was developed in the 1990s to evaluate brain damage, ADHD and other neurological disorders. As participants sit at a computer for an hour, a random number from 1 to 9 flashes onto the screen every two seconds. The object is to tap a button as soon as any number except 5 appears. The test is so monotonous, Mazaheri said, that even when a 5 showed up, his subjects spontaneously hit the button an average of 40 percent of the time.
By analyzing the recorded MEG data, the research team found that about a second before these errors were committed, brain waves in two regions were stronger than when the subjects correctly refrained from hitting the button. In the back of the head (the occipital region), alpha wave activity was about 25 percent stronger, and in the middle region, the sensorimotor cortex, there was a corresponding increase in the brain’s mu wave activity.
Click on any of the pictures below
to learn more