Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Brain power shortage: Applying new rules is mentally taxing and costly

Date:
July 16, 2012
Source:
Springer Science+Business Media
Summary:
Can you teach an old dog (or human) new tricks? Yes, but it might take time, practice, and hard work before he or she gets it right, according to new research. Their work shows that when rules change, our attempts to control our actions are accompanied by a loss of attention to detail.

Can you teach an old dog (or human) new tricks? Yes, but it might take time, practice, and hard work before he or she gets it right, according to Hans Schroder and colleagues from Michigan State University in the US. Their work shows that when rules change, our attempts to control our actions are accompanied by a loss of attention to detail.

Their work is published online in the Springer journal Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience.

In order to adapt to changing conditions, humans need to be able to modify their behavior successfully. Overriding the rules we adhere to on a daily basis requires substantial attention and effort, and we do not always get it right the first time. When we switch between two or more tasks, we are slower and more likely to commit errors, which suggests switching tasks is a costly process. This may explain why it is so hard to learn from our mistakes when rules change.

The authors explain: "Switching the rules we use to perform a task makes us less aware of our mistakes. We therefore have a harder time learning from them. That's because switching tasks is mentally taxing and costly, which leads us to pay less attention to the detail and therefore make more mistakes."

A total of 67 undergraduates took part in the study. They were asked to wear a cap, which recorded electrical activity in the brain. They then performed a computer task that is easy to make mistakes on. Specifically, the participants were shown letter strings like "MMMMM" or "NNMNN" and were told to follow a simple rule: if 'M' is in the middle, press the left button; if 'N' is in the middle, press the right button. After they had followed this rule for almost 50 trials, they were instructed to perform the same task, but with the rules reversed i.e. now if 'M' is in the middle, press the right button; and if 'N' is in the middle, press the left button.

When the rules were reversed, participants made more consecutive errors. They were more likely to get it wrong twice in a row. This showed they were less apt to bounce back and learn from their mistakes. Reversing the rules also produced greater control-related and less error-awareness brain activity.

These results suggest that when rules are reversed, our brain works harder to juggle the two rules -- the new rule and the old rule -- and stay focused on the new rule. When we spend brain energy juggling these two rules, we have less brain power available for recognizing our mistakes.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Springer Science+Business Media. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Hans S. Schroder, Tim P. Moran, Jason S. Moser, Erik M. Altmann. When the rules are reversed: Action-monitoring consequences of reversing stimulus–response mappings. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 2012; DOI: 10.3758/s13415-012-0105-y

Cite This Page:

Springer Science+Business Media. "Brain power shortage: Applying new rules is mentally taxing and costly." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 July 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120716091928.htm>.
Springer Science+Business Media. (2012, July 16). Brain power shortage: Applying new rules is mentally taxing and costly. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120716091928.htm
Springer Science+Business Media. "Brain power shortage: Applying new rules is mentally taxing and costly." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120716091928.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Monday, July 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

Newsy (July 25, 2014) An online quiz from a required course at Ohio State is making waves for suggesting atheists are inherently smarter than Christians. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins