What is a Brain Fart?

When was your last "D'oh" moment?

Have you ever found yourself driving back home, on a route so familiar you can do it blindfolded, and then poof, you miss the exit? Or called your girlfriend by your ex’s name? Blame the brain fart. Put simply, this is when your brain gets bored, and then unleashes the stupidest of all stupid mistakes. It is an explicably stupid error in a straightforward task made by you, someone with plenty of skill and experience. Scientists have given them the fancy name “maladaptive brain activity changes,” because your brain fails to do something that should be done so easily. So why do they happen?

Unlike mistakes that are due to lack of information or experience, brain farts are a cognitive mistake, and they are innate. They also have a predictive neural pattern (activity in your brain between your brain cells when this unfortunate incident occurs) upto 30 seconds before it happens. When you are absorbed in an inward-focused thinking, like daydreaming, some parts of your brain, called the default mode network, DMN, starts furiously popping away. We’re unsure what parts of your brain are part of this network, but we do know it is one of the busiest neurological systems. So much activity goes on here, it might help explain why the brain, which weights 2% of your total weight, takes about 20% of your energy!

This DMN, is the reason behind your brain farts. This part of your brain is responsible for creativity and imagination, among other things. When you do something so routine, your brain becomes a lazy beast. Your brain loves to pick up on regularities, patterns and rules. But the DMN constantly competes with attention network in your brain. To complete, a conscious task, your attention network has to suppress your DMN and any other distractions. But, given the chance, it will naturally revert to inward thinking- daydreaming- than respond to any external stimulus, and the DMN wins the day. Boredom will always reassert itself!

You also might want to consider this. The harder you try to make a good impression, particularly for men, the dumber you get, and the more prone you are to these brain farts. A study (Johan Karremans and colleagues at Radbound University) asked people to chat to strangers before taking a cognitive test. Talking to women handicaps men’s performances, particularly if the guy is attracted to the woman! It did not matter whether or not he was in a relationship. So, if you are  guy, and the next time you are in an elevator and there is a cute girl, and you press the wrong floor, don’t worry… you are just a typical male.

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