Brain Wave Patterns Predict Mistakes

UC Davis researchers have found that brain wave patterns predict mistakes a second before they happen.

Researchers hooked 14 volunteers up to a non-invasive brain-wave recording machine that employs magnetoencephalography (MEG). Then they administered really boring tests sure to trigger mistakes.

During a half-hour test sitting at a computer, 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 that even when a 5 showed up, the 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.


(Neuroscientist Ole Jensen models the Donders Institute's MEG machine)

Science fiction movie fans enjoyed watching Next, the 2007 movie starring Nicolas Cage and Jessica Biel. In the film, Cage plays a man who is able to see several minutes into the future; he can then use this information to prevent mistakes in his present.


(Nicolas Cage making no blunders with Jessica Biel in Next)

The movie is based (extremely loosely) on The Golden Man, a terrific 1954 short story by Philip K. Dick. Cris, the main character in the short story, is able to prethink and thereby avoid mistakes in the present:

He can look ahead. See what's coming. He can - prethink. Let's call it that. He can see into the future. Probably he doesn't perceive it as the future."

"No," Anita said thoughtfully. "It would seem like the present. He has a broader present. But his present lies ahead, not back. Our present is related to the past. Only the past is certain, to us. To him, the future is certain. And he probably doesn't remember the past, any more than any animal remembers what happened."
(Read more about Philip K. Dick's prethink)

For a fascinating look at the practical side of seeing into the future, read We All See The Future Like Dick's 'Prethink'.

From LiveScience.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/24/2009)

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