Every day, researchers learn something new about how the brain works. The neuroscience field is still in its infancy, but rapidly exploding – making the yesterday’s brain facts into today’s brain myths.
Our brain enables us to think, create and feel. And to receive, store and retrieve memories. In order to dig deep inside your mind we have collected some most interesting brain facts backed by science. Some will make you pause and think, and some will fill you with awe. Here we begin…
Your brain does creative work better when you are tired. This might sound crazy, but it actually makes sense when you look at the reason behind it.
If you are trying to do some innovative work, you will actually have more luck when your brain isn’t functionally efficiently or when you are more tired. In that case, your brain is not good at filtering out distractions and focusing on a specific task. It also has to remember connections between concepts and ideas.
This is a good thing when it comes to innovative work, since this kind of work requires us to make new connections, be open to new ideas and think in new ways. So a tired brain is much more use to us when working on creative projects. It is one of the reasons why great ideas stuck in the mind while shower after a long hectic day. The scientific American article explains how distractions could be a good thing for creative thinking.
Your brain in love: Researcher Helen Fisher has spent her academic life trying to figure out what’s going in the brains of those who are in passionate romantic love. She found that when they are focusing on the object of their affection, a whole host of brain parts starts lighting up.
She found that the caudate (part of the primitive reptilian brain) is highly active in these erotic individuals. The brain areas associated with dopamine and norepinephrine production light up. Both are chemical associated with excitement and pleasurable activities. That’s the reason lovers talk all night or walk till dawn, change jobs or lifestyles, even die for each other.
Stress can change the size of your brain: Some researches showed signs of brain size decreasing due to stress. It is quite scary to think that prolonged stress could affect our brain in long term.
A study found that in rats who were exposed to chronic stress, the hippocampuses (integral to forming memories) in their brains actually shrank.
Another study was done on monkeys who had been removed from their mothers and cared for by their peers for 6 months. The areas of their brains related to stress were still enlarged, even after being in normal social conditions for several months.
Brain parts: If you slice a human brain down the middle, you are left with the two hemispheres of the cerebral cortex. Each of the hemispheres contains 4 lobes: Frontal, Temporal, Parietal and Occipital lobes. They are specialized to do certain things, such as the frontal lobe helps you make decision, while the occipital lobe specializes in vision. Moreover, there are deeper structures in the brain like the limbic system, which is crucial for long-term memory.
It is impossible for brain to multitask: Most the people think that they can perform two or more tasks at the same time, but it turns out multitasking is actually impossible for the human mind. What we do is called context switching – quickly switching back and forth between different activities, rather than doing them at the same time.
Naps improve brain performance: We all know how important sleep is for our brain, but what about naps? It turns of the short bursts of sleep are really helpful, and they could increase brain’s day to day performance. It helps to improve memory strength and makes learning better.
According to the recent research, the right side of the brain is far more active during nap than the left side. Although 95% of the population are right-handed, with the left side of their brain being the most dominant, the right side is consistently the more active hemisphere during sleep.
So while the left side of the brain takes some time off, the right side is clearing out your temporary storage areas, pushing some information into long-term storage, solidifying your memories from the day.
Trepanning: It’s an old surgical intervention in which hole is drilled or scraped into the human skull to treat painful headache, brain disease or to let “evil spirit” out of head. An instrument called trephine is used for cutting out a round piece of skull bone, and the process is extremely painful.
Brain has a pleasure center: It lets us know when something is enjoyable and reinforce the desire to perform the same pleasurable action again. This is known as reward circuit, which includes all kinds of pleasure, from sex to laughter to specific types of drug use.
Introversion and extroversion are the result of different wiring in the brain: There is a difference in the brains of introverts and extroverts. The difference comes from how they process stimuli. The stimulation coming into our brains is processed differently based on personality. For introverts, stimuli runs through a long, complex path in areas of the brains associated with planning, remembering and solving problems.
On the other hand, for extroverts, the path is much shorter. It runs through an area where taste, touch, visual and auditory sensory processing takes place. Moreover, the difference in the dopamine system in the extrovert’s brain pushes them towards seeking out novelty, taking risks, enjoying unfamiliar or astonishing situations more than others.
Make your brain think time is going slowly: You can trick your brain into thinking time is moving more slowly by doing new things. When we receive a large amount of new information, it takes our brain a while to process it all. The longer this processing takes, the longer that time period feels. For instance, life threatening or accidental incidence makes us really pay attention, so we remember the time as longer because we record more of the experience.
On the other hand, if brain doesn’t have a lot to process, time seems to move faster. Same amount of time will actually feel shorter than it would otherwise. This usually happens when you take in lots of information that is familiar, because you have processed it before.
Wrinkles make us smart: The surface of the human brain is convoluted by deep fissures, ridges called gyri, smaller grooves called sulci. This surface is known as cerebral cortex and contains approximately 100 billion nerve cells. The folded, meandering surface allows the brain to pack in more surface area, and thus processing more power.
Smell of chocolate makes brain waves wild: The chocolate smell increases theta brain waves, which triggers relaxation. It also enhances alpha and beta wave activity – alpha is most commonly seen in a relaxed but waking adult, while beta is seen when people are doing something like mental arithmetic.
All brain cells are not alike: While there are 10,000 of specific types of neurons in the brain, generally, there are three common types of neurons: sensory neurons for conveying sensory information, motor neurons for conveying motor information, and interneurons for conveying information between different types of neurons.
Most of the brain cells aren’t neurons: The neurons make up only 10 percent of our brain cells. The other 90 percent that account for half the brain’s weight, are called gila (means “glue” in Greek). The roles of these unsung cells range from mopping up excess neurotransmitters to providing immune protection to actually promoting and modulation synapse (connection between neurons) growth and function.
New brain connections are created every time you form a memory. There are trillions of synapses in the human brain forming a flexible and complex network that allows us to behave, feel and think. Deterioration of synapses due to neurotoxins or diseases is associated with cognitive problems, change in mood and memory loss.
Brain never stops changing: A 2007 case study of a stroke patient shows that adult brain might be capable of creating new neural pathways, as those of children. The visual center of an adult brain can recognize itself neurally to overcome damaged pathways and result in improvements in visual perceptions. Moreover, research on meditation showed that vigorous mental training can change both the structure and function of the brain.
Male and female brains are similar: Although male and female hormones affect brain development differently, and imaging studies have found brain difference in the ways men and women feel pain, cope with stress and make social decision, the extent to which these dissimilarities are genetic versus shaped by experience is unknown.
A study published in Psychological Bulletin (January 2010) analyzed around half million girls and boys from 69 countries and found no overall gap in math ability.
People who make mistakes are more likeable: According to Pratfall effect an individual’s perceived attractiveness increases or decrease after he or she makes a mistake. Basically, those who never make mistakes are perceived as being less attractive and likeable than those who commit occasional mistakes.
The average adult brain weighs between 1.2 kilogram to 1.4 kilogram, or about 2% of the body weight, with volume of around 1130 cm cube in women and 1260 cm cube in men. Of that, the dry weight is 60% fat, making your brain the fattiest organ. About 80% of the contents of your cranium is brain, while the liquid that buffers neural tissue, and cerebrospinal fluid make up the rest. If you were to blend up all of that brain fluid and blood, it would come to about 1.7 liters.
An hour and half minutes of sweating can temporarily shrink the brain as much as a year of aging. Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London studied the brains of teenagers after 90 minutes of cycling. They found that the overly-dressed cyclists lost around 2lb in sweat, and their brain tissue had shrunk away from their skulls. Moreover, only 5 minutes without oxygen can cause brain damage.
Human brain is not solid: It is soft and squishy similar to soft gelatin, and it’s very fragile. When surgeons perform Hemispherectomy (procedure is used to treat a variety of seizure disorders), they remove/disable half of the brain to stop seizures. Surprisingly, there are no significant long-term effects on personality, memory or humor.
Brain storage capacity: The brain contains around 1 billion neurons and each neuron forms about 1000 connections to other neurons. They combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time, exponentially increasing the brain’s memory storage capacity to 2.5 petabytes (not to be exact). That means your brain could store 3 million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV on for more than 300 years to use up all that storage.
Memory is more of an activity than a place: A particular memory is deconstructed and distributed in different parts of our brain. When you recall it, it gets reconstructed from the individual fragments.
Brainpower: Human brain demands 20% of our resting metabolic rate (RMR) – the total amount of energy body expends in one day of no activity. If the average resting metabolic rate is 1300 calories, then brain absorbs 260 of those calories just to keep things in order.
1,300 kcal over 24 hours = 54.16 kcal per hour
15.04 kcal per hour = 15.04 gram calories per sec = 62.93 joules per sec
62.93 joules per sec = 63 watts (approx)
20 percent of 63 watts = 12.6 watts
That means, your brain generates about 12 watts of electricity. This could go up to 25 watts if your brain is working on some kind of intense/complex task. This is enough to power a low wattage LED bulb.
Brain cells cannibalize themselves: When you don’t eat, hunger-inducing neurons in the brain start eating bits of themselves. This act of self-cannibalism turns up a hunger signal to prompt eating. This explains why it is so frustratingly difficult to stick to a diet.
We use 100% of our brain: It has been misattributed to many people, including Albert Einstein that we use only 10% of our brain. The truth is, we use virtually every part of the brain and most of the parts remain active all the time (including sleep time). Most of the cells are used to control unconscious activities like heart rate, dreaming etc.
Also, there is no such thing as right-brain or left-brain type. We are not right or left-brained; we are “whole brained”.
Alcohol impacts memory: Alcohol primarily disrupts the ability to form new-long memories. As the amount of alcohol consumed increases, so does the magnitude of memory impairment. If you were drinking and do not remember what happened last night, it’s not because you forgot. The alcohol in the body made your brain incapable to form memories.
The backup brain: The brain in your head isn’t your only brain. There is a “secondary brain” in your stomach, which influences your mood, what you eat, the kinds of diseases you get, as well as the decision you make. It contains 100,000 neurons, and gut bacteria are responsible for making over 30 neurotransmitters, including the “happy molecule” serotonin.
Story of Albert Einstein’s brain: Before death, Einstein had requested that his body should be cremated completely. But, Thomas Harvey, pathologistPrinceton University removed his brain during the autospy and kept it in a jar in his basement for 40 years. He cut the brain into pieces and sent to different scientists for various researches. In 1999, they found that Einstein’s brain possessed unusual folds on his parietal lobe, a part of the brain associated with mathematical and spatial ability. Also, certain parts of his brain had more glial cells in relation to neurons.
The brain grows at an incredible rate during development – 250,000 neurons are added every minute. By the age of 2 years, the brain is about 80% of the adult size.
Brain information travels at different speeds within different types of nerve cells. These signals can travel as slow as about 1 mph or as fast as about 268 mph. Furthermore, nerve cells can transmit 1000 nerve impulses per second.
The 4th most powerful supercomputer in the world (developed by Japan) took 40 minutes to simulate just one second of human brain activity. The computer has 705,024 processor cores and 1.4 million GB of RAM. Currently, there is no computer in existence that can perform real-time simulation of organ’s activity, but Intel has said that it aims to have such a machine in operation by 2018.
According to the World Health Organisation long-term mobile phone use significantly increases the risk of brain tumors. However, the balance of current research evidence suggests that exposures to radio waves below levels set out in international guidelines don’t cause health problems for the general population.
The human brain is also a radio transmitter that sends measurable electrical wave. In fact, it continues to send out these signals for long as 37 hours after death.
Although any kind of pain is processed in your brain, your brain has no pain receptors and feels no pain. It’s just a tool that we use to detect pain. This explains how brain surgery can be performed while the patient is awake with no discomfort or pain.
The average brain generates anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 thoughts per day. It is estimated that in most people 70% of these thoughts are negative. Also, more than 100,000 chemical reactions go on in your brain every second.