Theodore (Ted) Stark
Jun 3 · 2 min read

It is known that practice makes perfect. This “practice” is exhibited by completing a set of sequential actions to achieve an outcome (such as changing lanes, hitting a golf ball, or composing an e-mail. Ever notice that when we are executing a set of actions, if we make one mistake, we tend to make more? What happens in our brains when these actions complete successfully? What happens when we make mistakes? A new study out of Bangor University (UK) and University College London, now have answers to those questions.

In their paper, which appeared in the journal Neuron, the research team monitored the brain activity of 16 participants (9 females, mean age 24.4) while they were asked to prepare and then execute a set of learned finger movement from memory. The researchers utilized a non-invasive technique that monitors the changes in the magnetic fields around the head when brain activity occurs. This millisecond based monitoring, known as Magnetoencephalography (MEG), allowed the researchers to identify unique brain patterns before and during the sequence execution.

The findings revealed that when the brain was preparing, in the milliseconds prior, to execute this sequence of finger movements, the brain stacked the actions to be taken in the proper order. Each step in the series was equally spaced. When a mistake occurred, however, the stacking of the actions was visibly less well-defined as separate or distinct and was more chaotic. Thus, when a mistake in a sequence of steps occurs, people are more prone to make additional errors due to the lack of action spacing.

Where findings replication is still required, these data can provide insight as to why when we execute a set of skilled or complex actions, once we make one mistake, we are prone to make more. These findings could also lead to enhancements for people recovering from a stroke, who are dyslexic or suffering from other neural conditions.

This was Article 117 from the Studio Quick Facts Series.


Bangor University(2019, February 7). How the Brain Prepares For Action. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved February 7, 2019 from

Binder, E., Hagelweide, K., Wang, L. E., Kornysheva, K., Grefkes, C., Fink, G. R., & Schubotz, R. I. (2014). Sensory-guided motor tasks benefit from mental training based on serial prediction. Neuropsychologia, 54, 18–27.

Kornysheva, K. (2016). Encoding temporal features of skilled movements — what, whether and how?. In Progress in Motor Control (pp. 35–54). Springer, Cham.

Kornysheva, K., Bush, D., Meyer, S. S., Sadnicka, A., Barnes, G., & Burgess, N. (2019). Neural competitive queuing of ordinal structure underlies skilled sequential action. Neuron.

Sadnicka, A., Kornysheva, K., Rothwell, J. C., & Edwards, M. J. (2018). A unifying motor control framework for task-specific dystonia. Nature Reviews Neurology, 14(2), 116.

Studio Quick Facts

The bi-weekly series focused on the science behind how humans interact with technology.

Theodore (Ted) Stark

Written by

Empirically minded User Experience professional with a bias towards the science that informs human-computer interaction.

Studio Quick Facts

The bi-weekly series focused on the science behind how humans interact with technology.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade