London: British neuroscientists have identified the brain network system that causes us to stumble and stall, which may have a disastrous effect on our performance.
Scientists at the University of Sussex’s Sackler Centre and Brighton and Sussex Medical School were able to pinpoint the brain area that causes the performance mishaps during an experiment using functional magnetic resonance neuroimaging (fMRI).
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Previous study has shown that people tend to exert more force when they know they are being watched. For example, pianists unconsciously press keys harder when they play in front of an audience compared to when playing alone.
In the new study, participants’ brain activity was monitored while carrying out a task that required them to exert a precise amount of force when gripping an object.
During the experiment, they viewed video footage of two people whom they believed were evaluating their performance. They then repeated the task while viewing video footage of two people who appeared to be evaluating the performance of someone else.
Participants reported that they felt more anxious when they believed they were being observed. Under this condition, they gripped the object harder without realising it.
Scan results showed that an area of the brain that helps us to control our fine sensorimotor functions – the inferior parietal cortex (IPC) – became deactivated when people felt they were being observed.
In fact, this part of the brain works with another region – the posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS) – to form what neuroscientists refer to as the action-observation network (AON). The AON is involved in “mentalisation” processes by which we infer what another person is thinking, based on his/her facial expressions and direction of gaze.
The pSTS conveys this information to the IPC, which then generates appropriate motor actions. If we feel our observer wants us to do well, we will perform well. But if we pick up negative cues, our IPC is deactivated and our performance falls apart.
The study results were published recently in the journal Scientific Reports.