Research Ties Fitness to Correcting Mistakes
Assistant Professor of Psychology
May 28, 2009
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. -- What advice do you hear to help you avoid making mistakes? Slow
down. Take it easy. Double-check your work.
How about -- Go for a jog?
An Illinois Wesleyan University faculty member has been gaining attention for his
studies connecting higher levels of fitness to improvements in correcting mistakes.
Assistant Professor of Psychology Jason Themanson has been studying the idea that
fitness levels can affect the area of the brain that detects mistakes.
His study, which was originally published last year in Neuroscience, caught the attention of
magazine. In a June 2009 Men's Health article titled "Win the Mind Games," Themanson
is quoted as saying study subjects with higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness
could better identify and correct more mistakes than those in the study who were less
fit. "Fitter people can absorb more oxygen into their blood," said Themanson, noting
fitness was related to the improved function of the part of the brain that detects
errors, known as the anterior cingulate cortex. "When you make a mistake, the cingulate
cortex sends a signal, letting you know," he said.
The Men's Health article offers tips on keeping a sharp mind, pulling together ideas from scholars
the author describes as a "brain trust," combining Themanson's advice with experts
from Duke University, UCLA, the University of Chicago and others.
Themanson (middle) and Associate Professor of Psychology
Joe Williams work with a student on the EEG machine.
Themanson knows brains. A neuroscientist, his primary area of research focuses on
studying the relationship between physical fitness and a person's ability to detect
and correct their own mistakes, a topic he has been exploring since his days as a
doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I). He joined
the Illinois Wesleyan faculty in 2007, where he has continued his studies.
The results offer a way to make a positive change, said Themanson. "When it comes
to 'cognitive control' -- or how your brain tries to help you meet goals -- a lot
of factors may be beyond your control," he said. "It may depend on personality, or
the situation -- things you cannot do anything to change. Fitness is something you
can control. You may not be able to change the fact that you are introverted or extroverted,
but you can change how fit you are." For the study, Themanson observed how individuals
from ages 18-25, and with differing fitness levels, caught mistakes they made, and
how their brains worked to stop repeat mistakes.
The study is good news for younger generations, said Themanson. "There is a whole
world of literature about how being fit can increase cognitive ability in older adults,"
he said. "Now, with this research, there is evidence that young people can do something
to help themselves as well."
Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960