Why Overthinking Is Holding You Back

Do you have a hard time quieting your thoughts and keeping your brain from going into overdrive? In addition to making you more stressed and anxious, new research suggests that a hyperactive mind could hinder your ability to perform simple tasks.

In a study published last week in the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that people whose brains used unnecessary thinking processes while trying to learn a basic task were slower to master it than people whose brains only used essential functions.

The researchers measured connections between different brain networks in study participants learning to play a computer game. After being taught how to play, the participants took the game home to practice. Several weeks later, they returned to the lab to show researchers how well they’d mastered the game during their home practice sessions.

While some of the participants picked up the task almost immediately, others improved slowly over the course of the study. To figure out why, the researchers analyzed participants’ brain scans and identified which parts of their brains had been active when they were first exposed to the game. What they found was that people whose brains used nonessential parts while learning how to play the game had a harder time becoming proficient in it. That is, they seemed to have trouble learning the task because they were overthinking it.

“In some cases, disconnecting brain networks is as or more important than engaging them,” Danielle Bassett, a bioengineer at UPenn and the study’s lead author, told The Huffington Post.

The slow learners kept two “cognitive control centers” — the frontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex — active longer than participants who learned more quickly. These parts of the brain, which are usually used —> Read More