Question

Errors in the performance of repetitive or “boring” tasks—often attributed to a momentary lapse in concentration—can be serious in such activities as flying a passenger aircraft. Is there any method that would provide warning of such lapses—for example by monitoring brain activity? Researchers scanned the brains of volunteers performing a repetitive task. When the tasks were being performed correctly, the volunteers’ brains showed activity in cognitive-processing regions. However, these regions became less active several seconds before some errors were made, and another brain region, region X, became active. The researchers concluded that the monitoring of region X could provide warning of an impending error.

Which of the following, if true, most supports the researchers’ conclusion?

Option A
Option B
Option C
Option D
Option E

(This question is from Official Guide. Therefore, because of copyrights, the complete question cannot be copied here. The question can be accessed at GMAT Club)

Solution

The Story

Errors in the performance of repetitive or “boring” tasks—often attributed to a momentary lapse in concentration—can be serious in such activities as flying a passenger aircraft.

Errors while performing repetitive tasks can have serious repercussions. For example, while flying a passenger aircraft. Such errors are often said to have been caused by a lapse in concentration.

Is there any method that would provide warning of such lapses—for example by monitoring brain activity?

The author poses a question asking whether there is a method that can provide warning before such lapses occur – possibly by monitoring brain activity.

Researchers scanned the brains of volunteers performing a repetitive task.

The author gets into talking about research conducted on brains of people performing a repetitive task. (He seems to be answering his own question posed before. He’ll perhaps tell us more about the research next.)

When the tasks were being performed correctly, the volunteers’ brains showed activity in cognitive-processing regions.

Here is one finding of the research related to when the tasks were being performed correctly. When tasks were going fine, there was activity in cognitive-processing regions (CPRs).

However, these regions became less active several seconds before some errors were made, and another brain region, region X, became active.

‘However’ tells us that the author will now go in the opposite direction. In this statement, we find out what goes on in the brain seconds before some errors were made. The CPRs become less active, and region X becomes active.

The researchers concluded that the monitoring of region X could provide warning of an impending error.

So the research concludes that one way to provide warning before errors while performing repetitive tasks occur is to monitor brain’s region X.

Gist: 

The author sets up the context in the first two statements – why a method that warns us before an error while performing a repetitive task occurs is needed – because such errors can be serious. He wonders if there is any such method. And then talks about a research that gives us a possible method.

Based on the findings (support):
When tasks were performed correctly, the brains showed activity in CPRs. 
Several seconds before some errors, CPRs became less active and region X became active.
The researchers conclude that monitoring region X could provide warning of an impending error (researchers’ conclusion).

The Gap

Was there some other independent factor (and not the impending errors) that might have led to region X becoming active in the research? If so, the activity in region X would not signify an impending error. Basically, were the activity in region X and the errors coincidental?

There could, of course, be other gaps as well.

The Goal

An answer choice that helps us bridge the gap we’ve talked about would work. There could, as always, be some other gap too that the correct option helps bridge.

The Evaluation

(A) IncorrectFirst let’s understand what this option says. Cognitive effort required to perform a repetitive task is inversely proportional (at least in one direction) to the number of repetitions of the task. More the repetitions, lower the effort. Even if we assume ‘cognitive effort’ and ‘activity in cognitive-processing regions’ are co-related, all this option hints at is why activity might reduce. No impact on whether monitoring region X could warn about an error.

(B) Incorrect. This option talks about what sometimes happens after a mistake has been made and detected. The researchers have drawn a conclusion about what they believe will help prevent errors by raising warnings. Brain activity after a mistake has been detected has no bearing on that.

(C) CorrectWhat did this ‘other’ research find? Typically, significant activity in region X happens only before errors in repetitive tasks. Now that’s interesting. We know from the research in the passage that region X became active before some errors were made. So, often errors are preceded by region X becoming more active. Now we also understand that region X typically becomes active right before errors in repetitive tasks. So, region X activity and errors in repetitive tasks are roughly 1 to 1 mapped. Region X typically does not become active for unrelated reasons. Thus, monitoring region X to raise alarms before errors makes sense.

Let’s say that a research finds that whenever errors in repetitive tasks occured, the volunteers’ eyes were blinking right before. Therefore, monitoring eye movement will help provide warning of impending errors. A counterpoint to this argument would be that eyes blink even when errors do not occur. Thus, monitoring eye movement is not a reliable way to catch impending errors. This option handles such a counterpoint by highlighting that activity in region X typically only happens just before errors in repetitive tasks.

(D) Incorrect. Tricky option. Let’s consider an inverse case. What if the increase of activity in region X began just a split-second before the errors occurred? Does that weaken the conclusion that monitoring region X could provide warnings of impending errors? Not really. Just that perhaps there would not be enough time to act on the warnings to prevent the errors. However, researchers’ conclusion is not that monitoring region X could prevent errors. Their conclusion is that monitoring the region could provide warnings. So the conclusion is not impacted by how much time before the errors the increase of activity began.

(E) Incorrect. Reduced activity in certain regions is accompanied by increased activity in certain others. 

Lower activity in cognitive effort related regions happens simultaneously with higher activity in regions that become active during sleep. 

Even if we take this option to mean that reduced activity in cognitive effort associated regions happens along with higher levels of sleepiness, this option still focusses just on the ‘why’ errors might happen. Whether monitoring region X would help raise warnings is not impacted at all.

This solution was created by Anish Passi and Chiranjeev Singh.

If you have any doubts regarding any part of this solution, please feel free to ask in the comments section.

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