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Medicine Science Technology

Predicting Human Errors From Brain Activity 123

Hugh Pickens writes "Researchers report that brain activity can be used to predict the likelihood of someone making an error about six seconds in advance, with gradual changes starting as much as 30 seconds ahead of time. The team used an imaging machine to scan the brains of a group of volunteers who performed a task in the presence of distracting information. When performing correctly the volunteers' brains showed increased levels of activity in those parts associated with cognitive effort, as would be expected. However, these areas gradually became less active before errors were made and at the same time another set of regions in the brain became more active. These regions are part of a so-called "default mode network" and show increased use when people are resting or asleep [PDF]. While imaging machines are far too big and complex to be used in workplaces to monitor the brain activity of people engaged in important tasks, the team hopes to correlate errors to changes in electrical activity in the brain with electroencephalography (EEG), using electrodes placed on the scalp. If EEG features can be found that correspond to the change in brain activity, then a hat that gives warning of an imminent mistake might one day become reality. We've previously discussed similar studies of brain activity."
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Predicting Human Errors From Brain Activity

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  • I don't believe it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Thursday April 24, 2008 @10:06PM (#23193138)
    I've seen some stupid research in my time, but actually believing you can predict errors in advance is like saying you can predict which leaf will fall off of a tree in the next 6 seconds.
  • by Narpak ( 961733 ) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @10:12PM (#23193194)
    The point as I understand it is that the machine notes when there is a drop in activity in the part of the brain responsible for whatever action you are preforming. A drop in brain activity increases the Likelihood of an error, but it does not say exactly when or how; just that the subject is no longer fully focused on the task and therefor errors will occur.
  • by Etherwalk ( 681268 ) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @10:14PM (#23193210)
    If you're falling asleep on the road, you're more likely to make the error of driving to one side. Similarly, if you're getting distracted by a stray thought, your concentration can suffer and are more likely to make errors in your primary task. You may not predict the exact error, but you can reasonably forecast an increased probability of error.

    Why else would car insurance rates rise when you get into an accident? Um... you know, aside from evil insurance companies?
  • Errors? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by E. T. Moonshade ( 591333 ) <> on Thursday April 24, 2008 @10:28PM (#23193324)
    My question is this: Will the knowledge that an error will occur cause the person in question to be even -more- likely to cause an error? Belief can be a dangerous thing in this case:
    "You're gonna make an error."
    *user has minor panic, nervousness, etc*
    "See? You errored. You suck."

    Makes me wonder if it would self-perpetuate if it were a self-monitored system rather than an externally monitored one - and once externally monitored, would the reaction time be sufficent to prevent the error? Sounds like some slick science on paper, but it seems like it'd fail in practical use.
  • That's good news! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ArcherB ( 796902 ) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @10:37PM (#23193402) Journal

    While imaging machines are far too big and complex to be used in workplaces to monitor the brain activity of people engaged in important tasks...
    Thank God!
  • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @10:39PM (#23193420) Homepage
    I don't know. This research is more like predicting whether leaves will fall in six seconds... when it can tell a big breeze is six seconds away.

    From TFS, it sounds like people are getting distracted and bored doing stupid mind-numbing tasks and when they do so, they make errors. As such, they have invented a bulky and expensive way to tell when you're drifting off (and that is fairly well correlated with making errors.)

  • by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @10:48PM (#23193482)
    Exactly. The problem with getting bored / distracted isn't so much that you make errors, but that you don't usually notice until after you start making mistakes -- but the distraction is already clearly present, and I see no reason it shouldn't be detectable.
  • Re:Errors? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bill Dog ( 726542 ) on Thursday April 24, 2008 @11:01PM (#23193556) Journal
    But it would be hard to concentrate if I was constantly worrying about losing concentration and being startled at any moment by a machine yelling "CONCENTRATE!!!!!!!!!!" at me.
  • Re:I agree (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheRealMindChild ( 743925 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @12:34AM (#23194106) Homepage Journal
    As someone who has taken too many of these tests, the problem ends up being your mind gets bored with the whole exercise withing minutes... these test take hours. After about 10 minutes at MOST, your brain starts to wander. You can NOT focus on the test no matter how much mental effort you put into these. It simulates situations like driving a car where actions and attention become so repetitive that there is an autopilot mode that kicks in. Bit in the same regard it can't be applied logically to situations like being in a boxing ring, because in those circumstances your brain is constantly adjusting to vectors that can't possibly be predicted, therefor always being up to paying attention at the task at hand.
  • by oodaloop ( 1229816 ) on Friday April 25, 2008 @06:38AM (#23195756)
    We've already shown that people typically DECIDE something like a second prior to when they THINK they decide. Matching up brain activity to verbal responses as to when a subject said he/she made a decision reveals the brain activity associated with making said decision occurs BEFORE they were consciously aware of it.

    If some specific mental machinery leading up to that were to be shown to lead to errors, it seems plausible that errors could be predicted.

e-credibility: the non-guaranteeable likelihood that the electronic data you're seeing is genuine rather than somebody's made-up crap. - Karl Lehenbauer