Scientists may soon be able to find a way to prevent common blunders, such as spilling a cup of coffee or failing to notice a red light.
Thanks to a new research, which has shown that the human brain is capable of signalling when an error is about to happen.
A research team, led by a researcher at the University of California, Davis, in collaboration with the Donders Institute in the Netherlands, has found a distinct electric signature in the brain, which predicts when an error is about to be made.
According to researchers, the new discovery could prove useful in a variety of applications, from developing monitoring devices that alert air traffic control operators that their attention is flagging, to devising new strategies to help children cope with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Ali Mazaheri, a research fellow at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, said that how the brain responds to mistakes has been the subject of numerous studies.
"But what I was looking for was the state the brain is in before a mistake is made because that's what can tell us what produces the error," he said.
Working with colleagues at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior at Radboud University, where he was a Ph.D student at the time, Mazaheri recruited 14 students into his study.
While they took an attention-demanding test, Mazaheri recorded their brain activity using MEG, magnetoencephalography.
As participants sit at a computer for an hour, a random number from 1 to 9 flashes onto the screen every two seconds. The object is to tap a button as soon as any number except 5 appears.
Mazaheri said that the test was so monotonous that even when a 5 showed up, his subjects spontaneously hit the button an average of 40 percent of the time.
By analyzing the recorded MEG data, the researchers found that about a second before these errors were committed, brain waves in two regions were stronger than when the subjects correctly refrained from hitting the button.
"It looks as if the brain is saying, 'Pay attention!' and then reducing the likelihood of another mistake," Mazaheri said.
The work has been posted online on March 23 by the journal Human Brain Mapping.