Our brains briefly lock-up after making minor mistakes
We all make mistakes. They’re unavoidable, and ideally, they help us learn to adjust or correct what we’re doing for better results. It’s not always easy to happily carry on after making a mistake, especially when it seems that our brains can be nearly paralyzed by them, at least for a brief moment. It’s actually part of the learning process, even if in practice it feels more like losing your mojo.
Chances are, you’ll only be acutely aware of this neurological hiccup in moments when you’re processing a lot of stimuli in a hurry. An experiment at George Mason University tasked people with watching changing images of concentric circles on a screen that quickly changed colors. With each variation, test participants only had to register if they saw matching colors or different colors, but do so as quickly as possible.
Researchers found that making a mistake would essentially break people’s rhythm. If the next answer was needed immediately after a wrong response, people were more likely to flub the next response too. If they were given a second between images though, they were much more likely get the second response correct, indicating that making a mistake required a bit of cognitive down-time before the participant was really engaged again.
More concretely, this involuntary mental pause was seen in brain activity as well. After a mistake, electrical activity in the visual cortex shifted, indicating that the participants weren’t focusing as closely on the follow-up image as normal. It seems that noting our mistakes, hopefully to learn from them, is a required step in our cognitive workflow. So if you are in a situation that allows for it, like an exam, take that second of reflection to reset and be better focused for what comes next. You don’t really have much of a choice.
Source: Making a mistake can put your brain on ‘pause’ by Laurel Hamers, Science News