The human brain is complex. Like really complex. So complex that most aspects of how it works are still mysterious to scientists.
That said, we are definitely in the golden age of neuroscience, and even in just the past 15 years we’ve learned some incredible things about the smartest organ in the human body.
[Sources listed at the end of the article.]
You could store the entire Internet inside your own brain. That’s how incredibly huge the memory capacity of a single human brain is.
How much information is that? Roughly one quadrillion bytes.
Having power in society actually changes your brain. Even slight increases in social status or control over other people can reduce empathy functions in the brain, making it harder to show compassion for other people.
The good news is that powerful people like CEOs, according to recent studies, can be coached to gain more empathy for the people that work under them.
We’re losing our sense of direction. Humans have an innate ability to navigate, almost a sixth sense that we have developed over the millennia through evolution. When you use GPS to navigate while traveling, you’re avoiding using those parts of those brain, called synapses, meaning that those connections will gradually grow weaker.
Ever notice how older people tend to have a better sense of direction? That’s because they’ve maintained those synaptic connections, by relying more on their brains and less on technology.
We use all 100% of our brain almost all the time, not just 10% of it. The myth that humans use just 10% of our brains is just flat-out false. Everyone would like to think that we have the untapped potential to become a supergenius, but the reality is that most parts of our brains are active almost all the time.
Even the myth that we only use 10% of our brains while asleep is false, as brain scans show otherwise.
Our brains are shrinking.
It’s a little-know fact, but it’s true. Over the past 20,000 years, the average size of the human brain has shrunk by about 10%, and scientists are not quite sure why. For millions of years before that, the brains of our pre-human ancestors were consistently getting bigger and bigger through evolution.
While some scientists think we’re shedding brain mass because our brains are getting more efficient, others say we really are becoming less smart as a species than our ancestors. Their reasoning is that we don’t have to rely on our own intelligence anymore to survive now that we have the benefits of civilization.
Your brain functions begin to get slower when you’re only 24 years old. Still, there are certain specific functions that peak much later in life, so throughout your life, some parts of your brain are getting stronger, while others are getting weaker.
For example, some studies suggest that your vocabulary can continue getting stronger up until peaking around age 72.
Many times in your life, you’ve probably experienced the brain phenomenon known as “sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.”
No need to be worried: that’s just the scientific term for brain freeze.
Your brain is composed of 73% water, so dehydration can drastically reduce brain function. It only takes 2% dehydration for your brain to be affected negatively in terms of attention span and motor skills.
Stay hydrated, people!
While scientists don’t understand exactly why we dream, they have pinpointed that dreaming serves a purpose for processing emotions and relieving stress caused by recent experiences.
Dreams occur during REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep, and increases in REM sleep have been linked to better emotional control and healthier mental functioning. Scientists believe it’s through dreams that our memories become emotionally neutral, allowing us to create new memories and experiences.
Scientists have figured out why we can’t tickle ourselves. It’s because of an area at the rear of the brain called the cerebellum, which helps control physical movements.
Your brain has a specific, overwhelming reaction to sensations on your skin that are unexpected. When your brain decides you’re going to tickle yourself, your cerebellum kicks into gear. It doesn’t understand that you WANT this big reaction to the sensation, and instinctively cancels it. It has to do this, otherwise you would be overwhelmed with sensation every time you touch your own body, even just to scratch an itch.
If someone else tickles you, though, the cerebellum is inactive and two other areas of your brain become activated: the somatosensory cortex, which processes touch, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which processes pleasant information. The two combine to form the strangely enjoyable feeling of being tickled!
There are no pain receptors in the brain. You can poke it all you want, you won’t feel a thing.
On second thought, let’s avoid poking our brains as much as possible.
We tend to think of 18 as the age of adulthood, but studies have shown that 18-year-old brains are only halfway developed toward maturity. Specifically, they still lack a fully formed pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain used to control impulses and organize yourself towards reaching a goal. That helps us understand why teens tend to be more inclined towards risky behavior.
Teenage brains also have a hyperactive reward system throughout puberty, which makes them more willing to dive into new and unpredictable situations in order to figure out if they will benefit from them or not.
You could fill an entire bottle of wine with the amount of blood that flows through your brain in a single minute.
Every sixty seconds, roughly 25 to 35 ounces of blood flow through your brain.
The human brain produces a healthy flow of electricity. If you wired up the human brain to a circuit, it would be able to power a small lightbulb.
The idea that some people are “right-brained,” while others are “left-brained,” has recently been debunked as a myth.
Recent studies have shown that while the two sides do have some specialization, virtually everyone uses both sides of their brains equally, simply calling upon different regions for different tasks, and often many at once.
For example, scientists used to believe that verbal communication used only the left side of your brain. It turns out that the left side of the brain only deals with the grammar and pronunciation parts, while the actual intonation and expression of the words comes from the right side of your brain.
Multitasking is basically a myth. The human brain isn’t capable of dividing attention into two tasks at once.
What it can do is shift back and forth rapidly between two or more activities. But beware: when you attempt to multitask, you may be slowing your productivity upwards of 40%, reducing your attention span, and weakening your short-term memory. Studies have shown repeatedly that we’re all gradually losing these abilities as technology keeps encouraging us to “multitask” more and more.
Our brains are pretty light, comprising only 2% of our body weight, but they require a lot more power than any other organ. In fact, brains consume around 20% of the energy and oxygen that goes through our system.
The human brain is somewhere between a liquid and a solid, and some scientists have found that the best comparison for its consistency is raw tofu, or even gelatin.
Feeling certain about something has nothing to do with actual certainty. When you think you know something and feel confident about it, that feeling comes not from your intellect but from the brain’s most primitive area, the limbic system. Your limbic system is always trying to generate a feeling of certainty, because it generates a dopamine response in your brain, it feels good to be certain. So feeling “certain” about something is not only arbitrary, your brain actually craves it for its own sake, so it has almost nothing to do with actually understanding something.
For example, by stimulating a certain region of the brain, scientists can make a human test subject speak more confidently about a topic than before.
While you were reading this sentence, more than 250,000 chemical reactions took place inside your brain.
Scientists used to believe that brain cells could not be regenerated after a young age, and that they simply decayed over time. In fact, my 9th grade science teacher told me exactly that.
But recent studies have discovered that brains have plasticity, meaning that through a process known as neurogenesis, they can absolutely generate new brain cells.
Your brain only needs to see an image for 13 milliseconds in order to process it. That’s even faster than you can blink.
A newborn baby, soaking up everything it hears, can store a memory of a language for years afterwards, even if it never learns how to actually speak that language.
A recent study looked at teenagers who were exposed mainly to Mandarin as infants, but then adopted and raised in a French-speaking household, never learning to speak Mandarin. Brain scans showed that these teenagers still had memory of those Mandarin language sounds, many years later.
Researchers thus believe that people who were exposed to a different language at birth might have an increased ability to learn that language later in life.
We’ve been studying the brain for a long time. The first recorded instance of medical knowledge about the brain comes from a papyrus manuscript written in Egypt in 1700 B.C.E.
In the document, an Egyptian doctor lays out 26 known injuries to the head, and what treatment should be prescribed to the patient for each one. The manuscript also provides a description of the brain and the fluids inside the skull.
Chocolate may be a valid sleep aid. When you smell chocolate, your brain produces a type of brain wave called the theta wave, which relaxes your mind.
The human brain treats the experience of rejection in the same way as it treats physical pain. In both cases, the brain’s pain receptors are activated, and the brain releases the same chemicals in order to make the pain more manageable.
Ever feel like you’ve got a billion different thoughts running around in your head at once? Well, that’s what brains do: on average, brains can process anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 distinct thoughts in a single day.