April 11, 2006
You know those moments when you suddenly realize you have made a mistake that is not just annoying but in fact irrevocable and costly? You’ve missed a flight, maybe, or lost your wallet. It’s a very distinct feeling: Cold. Clenching. Tires screech in the distance.
Well, now brain scientists say something distinct is happening in the physical brain, too. A specific part of the brain called the rACC lights up when errors are costly, not just annoying — unless you have OCD, in which case the rACC always lights up, regardless of how serious the error is!
I love mental exercises that help you empathize with unfamiliar (and often unreachable) mental states. Mark Haddon’s book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time does a great job of it with autism. And maybe this experiment is a window into OCD: Imagine that every possible error, no matter how small, felt like it would be costly. Hmm.