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April 11, 2006

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High-Stakes Life

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.

In other brain news: Not only does a pretty face earn you preferential treatment — it does so instantly. Blink indeed.

And! Why brains are different!

Posted April 11, 2006 at 9:23 | Comments (5) | Permasnark
File under: Braiiins, Briefly Noted


I believe the technical term you are looking for the describe that feeling is "klong," which as I recall originated with George V. Higgins ("The Friends of Eddie Coyle" is his best book) and which he defined as "a sudden rush of shit to the heart" -- the sensation that occurs when you are sitting with your feet up on the desk and your secretary walks in to say "Weren't you due in court 20 minutes ago?"

Come to think of it, Bill Mitchell at Poynter used to invoke 'klong' as well -- and yes, that's it exactly!

Pretty cool Robin. I'm now convinced that I have UnCD, in which no matter how costly my mistakes are they fail to register or change my behavior in any way. It would be sweet if I could artificially stimulate this part of my brain next time I am horrifically late to something and no one (including me) even seems to give a shiz.

UnCD... I love it! Ah ha hahahaha. We are busting out neologisms every DAY here at the market.

Ha. I wish I had unCD. While I don't think that my rACC is lighting up at every mistake I make, I certainly think that my threshold to what is perceived as costly lowers dramatically during times of stress (read usually) to varying degrees. I think I know this feeling too well! I have a confident intuition (without actually having read the article) that there's a universal correlation between frequency of rACC illumination & fatigue.

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