Why Your Brain Has Problems Bailing Out Of A Negative Plan
Enlarge this photograph toggle caption Aşkın Dursun KAMBEROĞLU/Getty Images Aşkın Dursun KAMBEROĞLU/Getty Images
You’re in your car, heading for an intersection. The mild turns yellow, which means you decide to hit the gas. You then see a police car.
Almost instantly, you know that stomping in the accelerator is a major mistake. But there’s a good prospect you’ll do it anyway, says Susan Courtney, a professor in the Section of Psychological & Human brain Sciences at Johns Hopkins University.
That’s because as one area of the human brain can be recognizing that police car, other areas have currently begun carrying out your original plan to accelerate. “Although you may haven’t truly started moving your feet, your brain has already initiated that plan,” Courtney says.
And stopping an idea once it’s underway takes a lot of brainpower, Courtney and a team of researchers report found in the journal Neuron. “It’s complicated,” she says.
The team monitored the mind activity of 21 persons and one monkey because they encountered a predicament that’s a bit like approaching an intersection when the mild turns yellow.
Participants were asked to focus on a central level on a display and wait for a target to seem somewhere else. Sometimes these were allowed to do the natural thing and shift their gaze to the target when it appeared.
Other instances, they got a visual cue to overrule the impulse to shift their gaze. Put simply, they had to cancel an actions the mind was already likely to carry out.
The study discovered that stopping an action required three key human brain areas to communicate with eight other areas. Previous research had advised fewer areas were expected.
The team also discovered that all the communication had that occurs within about one-tenth of another of whenever a participant saw the cue not to maneuver their eye. After that, a signal was already sent to the attention muscles and there is absolutely no way to avoid it, Courtney says.
This lag is why we experience that awful, fleeting moment when our brain knows we shouldn’t stomp on the gas, but our foot does it anyway. “If the transmission was already sent you can view it happen without being able to quit it,” Courtney says.
The brain’s stop system appears to be involved in far more than just controlling our anatomies. “It’s not just about stopping your feet or your eye, it’s about changing your plan about anything,” Courtney says.
One function of the mind systems that end an action could be helping us avoid danger, says Russ Poldrack, a professor of psychology at Stanford University who was not area of the study.
“People now feel that many of these same systems are involved in being more cautious in making choices, taking fewer hazards,” he says.
Also, there’s growing evidence that these systems will be faulty in people who have suffered brain damage or who abuse medicines, Poldrack says, adding that years ago, his lab did a study of men and women who take methamphetamine.
“Methamphetamine abusers were worse at stopping themselves on these very simple tasks and their ability to stop themselves linked to how very much craving they had for the medicine,” he says. The craving appeared to be interfering with the brain’s ability to change an idea it knows can be a bad idea.
In the long run, understanding the brain’s stop system may help us understand the success of our species, Poldrack says.
“The thing that humans do better than any additional species is adapt ourselves to the world when things change,” he says.
Poldrack agrees with almost all of what the Neuron review found, though he’d like to see a larger review before concluding that all the mind areas interact just how Courtney thinks they carry out.