Joydeep Bhattacharya, from the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London and his graduate student Simone Sandkühler from the University of Vienna, ran a study to find out what changes go on in the brain when it is trying to solve a problem.
The study, published in the Journal PLoS ONE this month, used electroencephalography (EEG) to monitor the brains of volunteers whilst giving them verbal problems to solve. Watching the changes in the brain as the volunteers solved the problems, they particularly wanted to see if the changes were sudden or gradual.
If a volunteer wasn’t able to solve a problem and had hit upon, what researchers call, a ‘mental impasse’ (ie mental block), they could ask for a clue to help them find the answer. The study found that mental impasse was associated with strong gamma rhythms, a brain wave often linked to focussed attention. The strength of gamma rhythms at the time of clue presentation also predicted whether the clue would lead to a correct solution or not: higher the gamma, less likely the solution. Interestingly the researchers found that it was the alpha rhythm, which is usually linked to less-attentive yet spontaneously relaxed brain-state, facilitates thinking that leads to a correct solution.
Dr. Bhattacharya said; “If there is an excessive attention it somehow creates a mental fixation, and the brain is in a less receptive condition. Our findings suggest that it is actually better to tackle problems with an open mind as volunteers who had a high level of alpha brain rhythms, rather than gamma, were much more likely to utilize the clue successfully in order to produce the solution.”
Sarah Empey | alfa
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