Scientists Figure Out the Cause of Brain Farts

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A "brain fart" is a term for an inexplicably stupid error
in a straightforward task made by someone with abundant skill and
experience. Everyone is prone to them. Neuroscientists call these
episodes "maladaptive brain activity changes."

The latest
research seems to indicate that brain farts are a unique type of
cognitive mistake. They have a predictable neural pattern that emerges
up to 30 seconds before they happen.

Basically,
your brain will take any opportunity to shut down some of its processing
systems. Here’s the process step by step:

t–10
minutes

You’re
daydreaming, and your medial temporal lobe subsystem, precuneus,
medial prefrontal subsystem, and posterior cingulate cortex, which
together make up the default mode network (DMN) are all active.

t–5
minutes

You confront
a demanding task, such as driving home. Your anterior cingulate
and right prefrontal regions, brain areas involved in attention,
begin to activate, as do the cerebellum and the parietal, visual,
and temporal cortices, which control the motor coordination you
need to pilot through traffic. At the same time, the DMN deactivates.

t–30
seconds

Your route
is extremely familiar. Your frontal lobes, bored by this habitual
task, begin to power down. The retrosplenial cortex in the posterior
section of the DMN begins to stir again. When the balance of activity
between the DMN and the attention network reaches a certain threshold,
you enter an error-prone state. You miss your exit off the highway.

t+5 seconds

Your frontal
lobes fire up again at high levels in an attempt to compensate for
the error. They return to a state of optimal performance, ready
to work on a corrective action.

t+15 seconds

The stress
of having made a blunder activates the limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal
axis, your brain’s "panic button." You experience
a surge of the stress hormone cortisol.

Source:
Discover
Magazine December 22, 2009

Dr. Mercola’s
Comments:

We’ve
all experienced brain farts – those major "oops"
moments when you make a really obvious mistake. This interesting
article from Discover Magazine expands on the latest research
surrounding brain farts, or as neuroscientists call them "maladaptive
brain activity changes" – and essentially explains that
having brain farts is just part of being human.

Basically,
it’s an interesting observation on why we tend to mess up!

To put it
simply, researchers explain that the default mode network (DMN)
of your brain is responsible for your inward-focused thinking, such
as daydreaming. But this is far from a passive activity, and actually
uses up a lot of energy. The DMN competes, in a sense, with other
areas of your brain for resources, and in order for you to carry
out a task that requires focused attention, your brain must inhibit
the DMN.

But remember,
the DMN is the default setting of your brain, meaning that
you will probably revert back to it while performing many tasks
of your daily grind. Your brain perceives many of these tasks as
patterns; they’re activities you’ve done many times before
so your brain may take a quick time out.

It’s
during these "time outs," when your brain is shutting
down some of its processing systems it believes you don’t need
in that moment, that brain farts are likely to occur. In just the
blink of an eye, you miss your exit driving home from work, send
an important email to the wrong person or forget what you went into
the next room to grab.

Fortunately,
DMN blips are typically short-lived, and once you realize you’ve
made an error your brain will likely kick into overdrive to try
and correct the mistake.

Can You
"Train Your Brain" to Avoid "Maladaptive Brain Activity
Changes"?

It may be
next to impossible to completely eliminate DMN blips from your life,
but you can certainly ramp up your brain function to enhance your
memory, skills and more.

Your brain
is actually a very moldable organ that can even rewire
itself if given the proper tools
.

In fact, humans
continue to make new neurons throughout life in response to mental
activity.

Brain volume
was commonly believed to stop expanding after age 20. But in MRI
brain scans researchers have found that white
matter in your brain continues to increase
until people are
in their mid- to late-40s.

One of the
simplest methods to boost your brain function is to keep on learning.
The size and structure of neurons and the connections between them
actually change as you learn. This can take on many forms above
and beyond book learning to include activities like traveling, learning
to play a musical instrument or speak a foreign language, or participating
in social and community activities.

Another important
method? Brain aerobics. As with learning, challenging your brain
with mind-training
exercises
can keep your brain fit as you age. This can be something
as simple as thinking of famous people whose first names begin with
the letter A, doing crossword puzzles or playing board games that
get you thinking.

A Healthy
Lifestyle is Your Key to a Healthy Brain

Your brain
is directly impacted by the type of lifestyle you choose to lead,
and leading a healthy one will likely radically reduce the occurrence
of brain farts, not to mention keep your brain functioning at its
best.

My top lifestyle
recommendations for a healthy brain include:

  1. Take
    omega-3 fats.
    The omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid
    (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) keep the dopamine levels
    in your brain high, increase neuronal growth in the frontal
    cortex of your brain, and increase cerebral circulation. Krill
    oil is an excellent source of omega-3, and in my opinion is
    superior
    to fish oil
    because of its higher brain absorption and inherent
    protective antioxidants.

  2. Exercise.
    Exercise may encourage your brain
    to work at optimum capacity
    by causing nerve cells to multiply,
    strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from
    damage.

  3. Sleep
    well.
    It’s during sleep that your mental energy is
    restored, and a lack
    of sleep
    may cause your brain to stop producing new cells.

  4. Eat
    healthy.
    Like the rest of your body, your brain depends
    on healthy
    foods
    to function. While protein is the main source of fuel
    for your brain, vitamins and minerals from fresh veggies are
    also important, as is limiting sugar.

  5. Get out
    into the sun.
    This will help you maintain optimal vitamin
    D levels. Scientists are now beginning to realize vitamin D is
    involved in maintaining the health of your brain, as they’ve
    recently discovered vitamin D receptors in your brain, spinal
    cord, and central nervous system.

    There’s
    even evidence indicating vitamin D improves
    your brain’s detoxification process
    . For children and
    pregnant women, getting enough vitamin D is especially crucial,
    as it may play a major role in protecting infants’ brains from
    autism.

  6. Turn
    off your TV.
    Allowing children under the age of 3 to watch
    television can impair
    their linguistic and social development
    , and it can affect
    brain chemistry
    as well.

  7. Protect
    your brain from cell phones.
    Recent studies have found that
    cell phone users are 240
    percent more prone to brain tumors
    , and a study in 2004
    found that your risk of acoustic neuroma (a tumor on your auditory
    nerve) was nearly four times greater on the side of your head
    where your phone was most frequently held.

  8. Avoid
    foods that contain artificial sweeteners and additives.

    Substances such as aspartame
    (Nutrasweet), artificial color and MSG,
    which are common in processed foods, can damage your brain.
    For instance, consuming a lot of aspartame may inhibit the ability
    of enzymes in your brain to function normally, and high doses
    of the sweetener may lead to neurodegeneration.

Related
Links:

January
14, 2010

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