Many people today suffer from mental exhaustion due to the mounting pressures of modern life. Manual labor can drain your energy from physical exertion, but what about complex cognitive tasks? Thinking for hours can make you feel as much fatigue as running a marathon. Researchers have found new evidence to explain why thinking causes mental exhaustion.
And they also discovered that intense concentration leaves less brain power for making decisions. For instance, you may opt for a microwave dinner instead of cooking after a long day after you come home from work. Since you have limited energy, your mind naturally gravitates towards the easiest option.
ADVERTISEMENT ADVERTISEMENT The research reported in Current Biologydelves deeper into why people feel mental exhaustion after periods of intense focus. Researchers found that several hours of intense cognitive labor causes a buildup of toxic byproducts in the prefrontal cortex.
This accumulation of toxins can inhibit your decision-making skills, making you choose low-cost actions that require little effort. “Influential theories suggested that fatigue is a sort of illusion cooked up by the brain to make us stop whatever we are doing and turn to a more gratifying activity,” says Mathias Pessiglione of Pitié-Salpêtrière University in Paris, France. ADVERTISEMENT “But our findings show that cognitive work results in a true functional alteration — accumulation of noxious substances — so fatigue would indeed be a signal that makes us stop working but for a different purpose: to preserve the integrity of brain functioning.”Pessiglione and his colleagues wanted to understand the mechanisms causing mental exhaustion. While the brain resembles a highly complex machine, it cannot
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