Friday 18 April, 2014

Brain frees you to focus on complex tasks

Published On: Sun, Sep 30th, 2012 | Neurobiology | By IANS

The brain frees you to focus on daily tasks such as driving or solving equations, by handling a set of complex decisions by itself.

It may involve drinking your morning coffee — how you grasp its handle and raise it to your mouth, without spilling a drop anywhere.

“Our study gives a salient example,” said Yangqing ‘Lucie’ Xu, doctoral candidate in psychology at Northwestern University, who led the study.

“When you pick up an object, your brain automatically decides how to control your muscles based on what your eyes provide about the object’s shape.”

“When you pick up a mug by the handle with your right hand, you need to add a clockwise twist to your grip to compensate for the extra weight that you see on the left side of the mug,” said Xu, according to a Northwestern statement.

“We showed that the use of this visual information is so powerful and automatic that we cannot turn it off. When people see an object weighted in one direction, they actually can’t help but ‘feel’ the weight in that direction, even when they know that we’re tricking them,” Xu said.

Steven Franconeri, study co-author and associate professor of cognitive psychology at Northwestern, said the brain is constantly making decisions for us that we don’t know about or understand.

“These decisions are usually smart and based on vast experience,” he said.

“In this study’s example, your brain is automatically using visual information to tell your hands what they are feeling.”

“We can show that these decisions are happening by manipulating the information your brain receives – we mirror-reverse the visual information and your brain now tells your hands that they are feeling the reverse of what they are actually feeling. This inference is mandatory – you feel it even if you know it’s not true,” said Franconeri.

“In the vast majority of cases, you want to ‘delegate’ decisions like this to the unconscious parts of your brain, leaving you free to focus on less straightforward problems, like following driving directions or enjoying your cup of coffee.”

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