By Gerald Traufetter
drawing by marguerita
Whenever humans recognize a mistake, a mysterious wave of electricity passes through the brain. Researchers think the signal could explain addiction, error correction and even the sixth sense.
Stress is normal for the 5,500 scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They know that whenever they make a decision, even the slightest error could have serious consequences.
The brain knows more than we sometimes give it credit for. Those subtle feelings of foreboding may be your gray matter telling you that you've made a mistake.Dr. Markus Ullsperger says that the brain learns quickly from its mistakes. The Cologne-based neurologist can also demonstrate that subjects who have made a mistake in the Flanker test take more time for their ensuing responses. "People change their decision-making strategy," he says. "They begin to learn from their errors."But what does the drop in dopamine production cause? What triggers the entire chain of signals? Ullsperger's explanation is that whenever the brain decides to take a specific action, it simultaneously develops an idea of the expected consequences. If the desired result occurs, the brain rewards itself with the feel-good hormone dopamine. But if something unexpected happens, the reward is withheld -- a form of self-inflicted punishment.
Human perception is highly specialized to notice contradictions between expected and actual ocurrencesAn ensemble of at least 1,000 nerve cells appears to be responsible for this ability to compare desire and reality.