When Your Brain is Out of Sync

Have you ever frantically searched for your keys, only to pick them up and move them without realizing it? Blame your brain: it's out of sync with itself.

Grayden Solman and colleagues at the University of Waterloo explains:

Solman's team propose that the system in the brain that deals with movement is running too quickly for the visual system to keep up. While you are rummaging around a messy house to find your keys, you might not be giving your visual system enough time to work out what each object is. Since time can be costly, sacrificing accuracy on occasion for speed might be beneficial overall, Solman thinks.

The slowing of mouse movements suggests that at some level the volunteers were aware that they had missed their target, a theory that is backed up by other studies that show people tend to slow down their actions after they have made a mistake, even if they don't consciously realise the mistake. Solman reckons this reflects the brain's "attempt to slow down the motor system", to allow the visual system to catch up and conscious perception to occur.

"What's really interesting is the notion that the motor and perceptual system are decoupled. They're both trying to help you find [your keys] but they're not coordinating," says Todd Horowitz, at Harvard University. "There are implications for social search, such as a doctor looking through an X-ray or [security] looking through luggage."


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I disagree with the Dr. and security examples in comparison to this finding. The Dr. is not using the motor capacity and is simply looking for anomalies on an image. The security person may be a bit more subject to this as they would be handling items in luggage as well as viewing them. There is a difference between searching a familiar house for keys and using the eye to spot something that shouldn't be present.
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