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."
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.
your brain will take any opportunity to shut down some of its processing
systems. Heres the process step by step:
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.
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.
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.
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.
of having made a blunder activates the limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal
axis, your brains "panic button." You experience
a surge of the stress hormone cortisol.
Magazine December 22, 2009
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.
its 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 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; theyre activities youve done many times before
so your brain may take a quick time out.
during these "time outs," when your brain is shutting
down some of its processing systems it believes you dont 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.
DMN blips are typically short-lived, and once you realize youve
made an error your brain will likely kick into overdrive to try
and correct the mistake.
"Train Your Brain" to Avoid "Maladaptive Brain Activity
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.
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
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.
method? Brain aerobics. As with learning, challenging your brain
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.
Lifestyle is Your Key to a Healthy 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
My top lifestyle
recommendations for a healthy brain include:
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
to fish oil because of its higher brain absorption and inherent
Exercise may encourage your brain
to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply,
strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from
well. Its during sleep that your mental energy is
restored, and a lack
of sleep may cause your brain to stop producing new cells.
healthy. Like the rest of your body, your brain depends
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.
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 theyve
recently discovered vitamin D receptors in your brain, spinal
cord, and central nervous system.
even evidence indicating vitamin D improves
your brains 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
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.
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.
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.
© 2010 Dr. Joseph Mercola