Successful problem solving depends on a brain that efficiently lessens its workload rather than laboring harder, a new study finds. Individuals may thus prefer less effortful problem-solving strategies not only for their simplicity but for their superior results, contend neuroscientist Erik D. Reichle of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and his colleagues.
Reichle's group administered tests of visual-spatial ability and verbal ability to five men and seven women. Next, functional magnetic resonance imaging scans assessed volunteers' brain activity—as indicated by the blood flow rising and falling—as they determined whether a series of sentences that they read corresponded to images that followed each sentence. On some trials, participants were told to form a mental image of each sentence to compare with the pictures; on other trials, they were told to focus on verbal meanings of sentences.