By MH Staff - Posted on 26th September 2013
Here’s what really goes on in your brain, plus how to upgrade your smart cells
- 1. CHICK FLICKS ARE MIND-NUMBING
- 2. IT’S YOUR GREY MATTER
- 3. YOUR BRAIN CRASHES IN THE AFTERNOON
- 4. BLONDES ARE DUMB
- 5. YOU CAN ELEVATE MIND OVER MATTER
- 6. YOU CAN’T TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS
- 7. THE MIND CAN PLAY TRICKS ON YOU
- 8. IN LOVE, THE HEART RULES THE HEAD
- 9. YOUR BRAIN USES LESS POWER THAN YOUR FRIGHT LIGHT
- 10. WE ONLY USE A TINY PROPORTION OF THE BRAIN
HIT It’s a thin line between dazed and confused and Sex and the City 2. Researchers at the University of Michigan in the US found that couples who sat through soppy films together experienced a 10% increase in the hormone progesterone. “It acts like natural valium,” says study author Dr Oliver Schultheiss. “The hormone also facilitates friendly exchanges,” he adds.
MYTH “A living brain is actually pinkish brown,” says Dr Derek Jones, of Cardiff University’s Brain Research Imaging Centre in the UK. “The grey comes from the appearance of the cortex post-mortem.” In short, a grey brain is a dead brain. “Experts refer to this tissue as ‘grey matter’ to determine it from white matter,” says Dr Lucy Brown of the Albert Einstein College of Medicince in the US. This comprises your axons – your nerves’ basic communication lines. They’re surrounded by a fatty substance called myelin, which gives the white sheen and plays a crucial role in messaging, memory and mood. Keep it working with omega-3 fats by eating plenty of oily fish or taking a supplement.
HIT The 4pm slump isn’t just down to that stodgy lunch or mind-numbing finance report: your brain “goes slow” as your testosterone levels bottom out – usually around 4pm. “When you lose testosterone, your memory worsens,” says Dr Jeri Janowsky, at Oregon Health & Science University. “Competitive games can boost testosterone, especially for the winners.” Sounds like the perfect excuse for a game of efficiency-improving wastepaper-basket basketball.
MYTH Q. What do you call a blonde with two brain cells? A. Pregnant. If you’re laughing, you’re the one looking dumb. There’s absolutely no scientific evidence that hair colour has any influence on IQ, and psychologists at the University of Paris X Nanterre found that when men meet flaxen-haired women, it’s us who have a “blonde moment”. The study found men’s performance in cognitive tests dropped in the presence of blondes, due to the incorrect belief that they were dealing with someone less intelligent. “In the same way that people talk more slowly in front of elderly people, men suffer from bimbo delusion,” says study author Thierry Meyer. When asked to comment on stereotypes, Paris Hilton told us she only has a CD player and an iPod.
HIT You may not be able to levitate dumbbells with your Jedi training just yet, but if you flex your brain you won’t have to. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio asked volunteers to spend 15 minutes a day just thinking about exercising their biceps. After 12 weeks, their arms were 13% stronger. So far, “thinking it bigger” hasn’t been found to work on other parts of the male anatomy, but maybe we’re just not trying hard enough…
MYTH It’s true. Lassie may never learn Flamenco guitar, but hopefully you’re a more dynamic intellectual force. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. First, the will: US research at Case Western Reserve University found a small shift in habits, like using your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth for a few weeks, can increase your willpower. “A small switch has a positive effect on your ability to tackle bigger things,” says study author Dr Roy Baumeister. Now the way: “Walking for half an hour, three times a week, can improve learning, concentration and abstract reasoning by 15%,” says Dr Sam Wang, associate professor of neuroscience at Princeton University in the US.
HIT Have you ever wondered why the Yeti only appears high in the Himalayas? Well, he’d probably be too hot on the beach, but mountaineers also often claim that they have felt the presence of unseen companions or to have seen light emanating from others when they have been at altitudes above 2 500m. MRI scans of brain changes after such high-altitude climbs, reported in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, show that the oxygen deprivation short-circuits the areas of the brain that deal primarily in face processing and emotion.
MYTH It’s the head that rules, according to research conducted at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, which took MRI images of people’s brains as they viewed photos of their latest loves. “The caudate nucleus and the ventral tegmental areas – associated with reward and motivation – showed signs of raised stimulation,” says Brown. This means that love affects the same parts of the brain as do hunger, thirst or drug cravings. “Biologically, we are all slaves to passion,” adds Brown.
HIT A mere 12 watts per day, compared with your fridge’s 18. “That’s the energy in two bananas,” says Dr Eric Chudler, a behavioural neuropsychologist at the University of Washington. This energy isn’t all wasted on attempting to do your tax return or understand the workings of the female mind, either. “It’s mainly used on maintenance, keeping neurons firing,” explains Chudler. “The energy used for thinking hard is barely noticeable.” The brain is an energy hog, though. “It’s only 3% of the body’s weight but consumes a massive 17% of the body’s energy,” says Chudler. Studies at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland found that to keep it firing, eating beans on toast is the smart choice. “Toast for breakfast was found to boost cognitive test results, but when tests got tougher, adding the high-protein beans worked best,” says study author Barbara Stewart. “And go wholewheat, as research shows a link between high-fibre diets and improved cognition.”
MYTH Contrary to popular belief, we humans use most of our thinking power. “Scans show that much of the brain is active during many different tasks,” says Chudler. The right frontal lobe, for example, becomes especially active during comedy moments. University of Toronto research showed patients who’d experienced brain damage to this area were entirely unable to isolate the humour in jokes.