Everyone has had the mindless slipup during a monotonous task. A lapse in concentration or brain activity, however, is not the sole culprit for that slip. In fact, activity patterns occurring in a set of brain regions associated with maintaining task effort can be used to forecast flawed behavior up to 30 seconds before it occurs, possibly preventing the imminent errors. Researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway used functional MRI to scan the brains of individuals performing a simple tedious task—in this case, determining the correct directions of arrows on a computer screen.

Activity in the brain’s task-performing network decreased before a mistake occurred, and once the individuals detected their mistake, they reengaged, resetting the activity pattern. According to lead researcher Tom Eichele, the next step in predicting mind­less errors will be through the use of electroencephalography, a technology that is portable and wireless and can make the predictions more practically applicable. The study appears in the April 22 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.