Jan 242011

Even after a few million years of evolution the human brain still has many quirky surprises. It’s rather like finding an unexpected room in a house you’ve lived in for decades.

Maladaptive brain activity changes, better known as ‘brain farts’, are something most of us are familiar with. We forget to do the right thing in a task we’re so familiar with that we could do it in our sleep. It’s as if the brain decides to take an involuntary holiday and indeed that is exactly what happens.

If you had an MRI machine handy when it happened what you would see is that parts of the brain that are normally active when the brain is resting suddenly light up. At the same time you’d see parts of the brain that are normally lit up when you’re working hard on a task go dark. About half a minute later you do something dumb.

Yes, that’s right. The changes in brain activity that precede your moment of dumbness start happening around 30 seconds before hand. At the moment there is no way to predict when that will happen, it happens to everyone and throughout the animal kingdom. The brain returns to its normal liveliness when you spot the error.

The fact is that these events can lead you to do something that is not only dumb but dangerous.

How to you deal with it? Teamwork and error-tolerant procedures could mitigate the hazard. But may you have other suggestions?

For those who are not science phobic, here’s the classic paper on the phenomenon.

For the rest, here’s the ‘brain farts for dummies’ version.

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