Sunday, 20 January 2013

5 Ways Our Brain Messes With Us

It does not come to us any surprise that our minds are incredible tools and what is even more fascinating is all the stuff that goes on without us even thinking about it. There are tricks our brains play in order to ensure our happiness or our survival. But there is also another side to this. Our minds are extremely complex and sometimes when it concerns happiness, our brains can be our worst enemies; justifying something we want as right even though it isn’t, letting us think we are in love when we are really just infatuated with sex (I guess this one, as a stereotype, applies more to woman than to men…), coming up for excuses to slack off, and the list could go on! Our own mind pretty much knows that we know the complexity of it and so loves to deceive us whenever possible!

 1) “It’s not me, it’s you”

It is so easy for us blame someone else for our unhappiness. In fact we throw blame around more than food in a school cafeteria and we are often deluded to realizing it all comes down to you. We make our own choices and if something is not working out the way you planned it to, our defense mechanism tells us it must be the other people like your parents, wife, boyfriend, friend who are completely off track because you know best, right? Well you are wrong. In fact you don’t always know best, we are just programmed to think so.

 2) I’d be happier if only I had to do less”

Don’t we all dream of a life where all we had to do is lie around and enjoy the warmth of the sun somewhere in paradise far away? Is that not why we work so hard? So we can earn money so we never have to work again ever? Well life is a paradox and I’m sorry to say but this idealistic lifestyle is a lie. Studies have previously shown that doing absolutely nothing is key to boredom, tiredness which both lead to depression. So really doing less would mean you would be unhappier. We thrive on the fact that we have something to wake up for and routine in our lives is extremely important, especially for our health. Fun fact: people who retire earlier, die faster.

3) Reliving ‘fake’ past experiences

What is it exactly that happens when you are so sure that you’ve experienced something before? It’s undoubtedly real and you remember everything to the tiniest detail. Déjà vu is nothing uncommon and it can be easily explained. Yep, once again it’s your mind that is to blame for its conniving and devious ways, forcing you to believe something is real when it's not. Your brain processes the information about the experience before you perceive it. Then your consciousness receives information from it moments later, making you think the situation is relived. The real problem lies in the fact that occasionally the wires get crossed between short-term and long-term memory. This makes it feel like an actual memory opposed to new information.

4) Future me is not present me

It’s the night before an exam. You have done zero studying and yet you find yourself getting distracted by all the TV shows in the world, ignoring work. We have all been there. In terms of on a conscious level, you are obviously aware that this is not the wisest decision and you are somewhat screwed (to put it lightly). But on a subconscious level, we are programmed to believe that tomorrow’s version of you is not the same the same you. We see our ‘future-self’ as a whole different person, causing us to think: “that guy can deal with those problems tomorrow”, making it easier for us to neglect doing things we don’t want to. In your mind, it’s not ‘you’. For instance try to imagine yourself 20 years from now. That picture forms the impression of some peculiar, unimaginable stranger. Why does this happen? In terms of the science behind this, this is an inbuilt feature of our brain. According to various brain scans, different parts of our brain light up when we think of ourselves in contrast to when we think of other people. This makes sense since, as a survival mechanism, we must look after ourselves first. However, what is extremely fascinating is when we think of our future-self the part reserved for other people lights up; hence, you see yourself as a different person.

5) Is that Jesus in my food?

Remember that time when you were a kid, scared of sleeping in the dark and you could’ve sworn that shadow on your closet was a monster? Pareidolia is exactly that phenomenon (and one of the main causes for what we label as ‘supernatural’). You see faces and human figures in pretty much everything: Virgin Mary in the clouds, a face in a tortilla, or the shape of man in the trees. There is nothing we can do about it; we are highly wired to recognize human characteristics in less-than-optimal conditions. Even from the moment we are born, we can see a human face clearly in poor visibility or from a far distance. Basically the details that our eyes omit, our brain fills in, giving us an evolutionary advantage of being able to identify the predator. Pattern recognition is one of the brain’s specialty; the human face being it’s favorite.


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