YOUR BRAIN NEEDS A BREAK
researchers at microsoft announced 18 months ago that it is good to take breaks when you are working. in their words: "research proves your brain needs breaks". if the study was not so poorly done there might not be reason to disagree.
reported in: The Daily Mail by Stacy Liberatore on 7th December 2022
this story was in episode 34 #givemeabreak #work #tired #sleep #fatigue
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winning the prize for most the obvious, pointless & late brain news story of December 2022, the Daily Mail tells us that "New research finds the stress you feel during back-to-back meetings is all in your head."
it's not new - the story is from April 2021. & where else would stress be, but in your head?
anyway, let's look at this press release from researchers at Microsoft published in April 2021. under the headline "Research Proves Your Brain Needs Breaks", Microsoft claims to have amassed one of the world's largest bodies of research evidence on the subject of how we work - collected during the pandemic.
& what is that evidence, i hear some of you ask? 14 people had a video meeting while the electrical signals from their brains were monitored using electroencephalography. on one day, the 14 people had four hours of back-to-back meetings; on another, meetings were broken up with ten minute burst of meditation, using the Headspace app.
in the results section - of the press-release - we are first told that 'beta waves' are associated with stress & that during continuous hours of meetings, beta waves increased. during ten minute breaks between meetings, they decreased. we are shown colourful maps of brain activity in the two conditions, where the power of electrical beta activity is represented on a scale - with no numbers - where the units go from 'less stress' to 'more stress'. stress was not measured.
second, we are informed that, when you take breaks 'frontal alpha asymmetry' is positive, but it's negative without breaks. positive frontal alpha asymmetry is associated with higher engagement. engagement was not measured.
third, we are told that beta wave activity increases at the beginning & end of video meetings & that this is bad because beta activity is stress. neither of the two graphs shown in the press release have obvious increases at the starts or ends of meetings.
to conclude, the press release quotes the director of the research group, Michael Bohan: "What makes this study so powerful & relatable is that we're effectively visualizing for people what they experience phenomenologically inside... It's not an abstraction — quite the opposite. It's a scientific expression of the stress & fatigue people feel during back-to-backs."
is this a scientific expression of stress & fatigue?
Microsoft did not measure stress. or fatigue. or engagement. or anything, in fact, apart from electrical potentials on the scalp while people endured either four hours of video calls back-to-back, or took ten minute meditation breaks between calls.
did people close their eyes when meditating during these breaks? we don't know.
did people relax their head & neck muscles during these breaks, or just continue hunching & staring at the screen? we don't know.
what do the colourful images presented - by one of the world's largest & richest tech companies - mean, & what do they tell us? we don't know.
this press release, far from telling us anything useful at all, has removed knowledge from my brain. what's the point of having the largest body of evidence on a topic, if all that evidence is crap?
what i can work out is that, according to the images, during video meetings there was, on average, more electrical activity in the 'beta-band frequency' in the area of the head just behind & below the ears, as compared to during meditation. the beta band comprises oscillations of electrical signals with frequencies between around 13 & 30 times a second. probably - Microsoft didn't say.
muscle activity & movement is often related to electrical activity in the beta band, in things given names like beta-desynchronisation, beta-rebound, & beta-coherence. there are large neck muscles just behind & below the ears. perhaps people relax their necks when not staring at a screen for four hours straight? it's just a thought.