Remember those math problems, where when we couldn’t get the answer, we would go for a walk and come back… and immediately “get it”?! Well, it has scientific basis.
A recent study published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience has shown that the brain regions responsible for decision-making continue to be active even when the conscious brain is distracted with a different task. The research was done by a team at Carnegie Mellon.
For the study, Creswell, recent Carnegie Mellon graduate James K. Bursley and Northeastern University’s Ajay B. Satpute presented 27 healthy adults with information about cars and other items while undergoing neuroimaging. Then, before being asked to make decisions about the items, the participants had to complete a difficult distractor task—memorizing sequences of numbers—to prevent them from consciously thinking about the decision information.
The study threw up three main findings:
- brief period of distraction—in this case two minutes—produced higher quality decisions about the cars and other items
- during the distractor task, both the visual and prefrontal cortices continued to be active—or reactivated—even though the brain was consciously focused on number memorization
- the amount of reactivation within the visual and prefrontal cortices during the distractor task predicted the degree to which participants made better decisions, such as picking the best car in the set.
Basically, it is important to rest the brain before going ahead with a problem which you have engaged in over a long period of time.