The Osgood File. Sponsored in part by Auto Owners Insurance, the No Problem People. To find an independent agent near you, visit AutoOwners.Com. This is Charles Osgood on the CBS Radio Network.

You know what it’s like to have your train of thought derailed?

It happened in the movie “The Big Lebowski”…

NAT – Sam Shepard in “The Big Lebowski”
“But sometimes, there’s a man … sometimes, there’s a man … aw, lost my train of thought here…” (:10)

Why does this happen? And what does it mean about our brains?

Some answers after this…

((( BREAK )))

Professor Jan Wessel of the University of Iowa says our brains have a special mechanism that can send a signal telling the body to stop moving – such as if you turn a corner and you’re surprised to see something there in front of you…

SOT – Prof. Jan Wessel, University of Iowa
“Prior research of ours has shown that this stopping network becomes engaged following unexpected events.” (:06)

He wanted to see if these unexpected events included being distracted, so he asked people to take a memory test…

SOT – Prof. Jan Wessel
“We had these participants maintain a string of letters in mind that they just kind of repeated over and over in their head, and then we played them these unexpected tones, and we measured how good they were at remembering this information after a couple of seconds.” (:13)

In most cases, the unexpected tones set off activity in the same group of brain cells that send the “stop” signal to the body. But instead of no longer moving, the people who took the test found that their memories came to a halt and that they couldn’t remember the pattern…

SOT – Prof. Jan Wessel
“And we showed that after these unexpected events, they get worse at that.” (:03)

The Professor says this suggests that the brain’s stopping mechanism not only can shut down the body, but it can also shut down our thoughts.

He’d like to investigate whether this insight could someday lead to different treatments for people with attention deficit disorders and Parkinson’s.

In the meantime, he says…

SOT – Prof. Jan Wessel
“If you’re really trying to memorize something, then tell everyone around you to be quiet and don’t interrupt you with anything! (laughs)” (:07)

The Osgood File. This is Charles Osgood on the CBS Radio Network.