Brains are complicated, powerful, crazy things. Quotes that assert that you are a soul and you have a body kind of have a point even if it doesn’t fit into your belief system.
Your entire consciousness is contained in your brain. Everything that you see, feel, smell, and taste isn’t really being processed by your eyes, hands, or nose. Every part of your body is constantly conversing with your brain, sending signals back and forth that dictate your entire corporeal experience.
This idea can seem a little bit inconceivable if you’ve never thought of it before but consider the idea of Phantom Limb Syndrome. This condition is present in a significant number of amputee patients (80-100%, in fact). Those who experience this report being able to feel things like pain, itching, or other sensations in the limb that they no longer have. Their brain is still sending or responding to signals in that “area” of the body, even though it has been physically removed.
The brain is the most complex organ in the human body and, though we have made great strides through centuries of research, there are still plenty of things that can’t be explained based on the knowledge scientists have gathered throughout history.
Even the idea that we (as a society) have a desire to understand our brains is interesting because, at its core, the brain has not only named itself but also has a desire to understand itself and its own functionality.
In the very beginning, ancient medical practitioners had an extremely limited and often confused understanding of the brain and what it does. For instance, even though Aristotle believed that the brain housed our spirits, he also believed that it was a secondary organ that functioned as a cooling agent for the heart.
We’ve come a long way since then, scientifically speaking. The anatomy of the brain is much more thoroughly understood. More studies are being done now than ever before to understand consciousness as a whole. This is in part due to the increased interest in artificial intelligence.
Robots are aware of and can detect things like color and sound; however, they don’t experience the same feelings that brains do from these sensory inputs. Consciousness is often described as the subjective experience of the mind.
Scientists are putting more effort into researching how brains developed over the course of human evolution and the overall functionality of the brain. An interesting study has uncovered the fact that your brain doesn’t accidentally forget information but, instead, misplaces it on purpose. Forgetting is now understood as an essential process for a functional memory. This revelation in itself demonstrates just how limited our understanding of certain brain functions is.
Potentially, there are innumerable other things that our brain does that are currently understood as passive processes that may actually be active.
The idea that those who have dedicated their entire lives to understanding the command center of our nervous system still have so much to learn is wild to think about. Of course, that means that everyone else (read: not-scientists) probably has no idea how enthralling (and completely weird) the human brain truly is.
Some of the things the brain is capable of just seem impossible and there is so much interesting trivia about the organ. Did you know that there are billions of neurons in your brain and trillions of synapses designed to interact with them all throughout your body? Did you know that there is no such thing as being “right-brained” or “left-brained”? (These parts of your brain have distinct functions from one another but, everyone is “whole-brained”; the qualities associated with these terms are complete generalizations with no substantial evidence that they are legitimate.) If not, there is no better time than the present to dive in and learn more about the intricate computer between your ears.
If you’ve ever wondered what yawning really is, what brain freeze is trying to tell you, and what a human brain actually feels like when you hold it in your hands, you’re in the right place. In this list, we take a look at the 50 most fascinating facts about the human brain.
1. The Brain Takes Up Roughly 2% of Your Body Weight
The human head weighs around ten pounds and just under a third of that is your brain. The average adult brain weighs three pounds, which averages out to be around 2% of your total body weight. It is also typically around six inches long. We have the largest cerebral cortex out of all mammals relative to the overall size of our brains; however, it is a myth that we have the largest brains overall.
Some whales’ brains can weigh up to 20 pounds. A lot of people also have the misconception that brain size equates to intelligence but that isn’t true, either. The truth lies in the ratio to total body weight. Most other mammals have a ratio of 1-to-180 but humans have a ratio of 1-to-50. Our brains are enormous for animals of our size! When compared to all mammals, our brains take up more of our total body weight than any other species.
2. …And 60% of Your Brain is Fat
It turns out there is a reason why you’re constantly inundated with information about how essential healthy fats are to your diet and how they contribute to brain health. The human brain is, impressively, about 60% fat. It is the fattiest organ in the body. There are other components like nerve fibers, blood vessels, nervous tissue, and water that make up your brain as well.
Fatty acids are the most essential component of keeping our brain healthy in every way, from maintaining its structural integrity to manufacturing and utilizing neurotransmitters. The human brain depends heavily on fatty acids because that is the majority of its composition and yet, they can only be obtained from the foods you eat rather than being synthesized by the body. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is also a lot of cholesterol in your brain as well. In this case, though, store-bought isn’t fine. Your brain produces its own cholesterol because it can’t take it from your blood.
3. Brains Don’t Feel Pain
As common as it is to say that something makes your brain hurt, or as easy as it is to believe that a headache means that your brain is hurting, it turns out that brains don’t feel pain. There are no pain receptors on your brain. It is the only part of your body that has no pain receptors at all.
Headaches are caused by chemical reactions in the protective shield around your brain. This part of your body is called the dura and pia, and they do have pain receptors. Tension and increased blood flow to the head can also be the source of your pain. The reason why it can still feel like your brain itself is hurting is because, as it so happens, it can be really bad at locating the source of head pain because of the immense variety of tissues that it is composed of.
4. Brain Surgery Can Be Performed on a Fully Conscious Patient
Like you just read, there are no pain receptors in the actual tissue of the brain. These cells, called nociceptors, never develop in the brain. It’s similar to the way that people who are born blind don’t see “just black” but instead, they simply do not see.
Since your brain doesn’t even have the proper cells to process and respond to painful stimuli, many neurosurgeons complete surgeries without any anesthesia. There are videos online of completely conscious (and responsive) patients during brain operations. It is mind-blowing to think that such a sensitive and important organ can be surgically manipulated without any anesthetics, isn’t it?
5. Your Brain Generates Enough Electricity to Power a Lightbulb
Even though a lot of people are disconnected from this fact, our bodies run on electricity. Cells use electrical currents to trigger our heartbeats, as well as carry out all of their other functions. We are always generating electricity so, naturally, our brain utilizes that power to carry out its duties throughout our bodies.
There are multiple reports that state conflicting information; however, the general consensus is that our brains run on anywhere from 12 to 25 watts. This is enough to power a small lightbulb, like the ones in battery-operated candles. What’s so interesting about the amount of electricity our brains use is that it represents about 20% of the total amount of energy our body uses just doing nothing. It uses more power than any other organ in our body.
6. The Brain Triples in Size in the First Year of Life
There are so many different reports on when your brain will be fully developed. Some sources state that you could be as young as 18, while others push that number all the way up to 40. While that remains unclear, it’s no secret when your brain goes through the most rapid development and that is, of course, when you’re born.
Over the course of the first year of your life, your brain grows more rapidly than at any other time. This is also when human brains go through a sort of pruning process. Babies are born with an astounding amount of neurons, close to 90 billion of them. During a child’s first year of development, their brains determine what neural connections are useful and which are not. This is why talking to your child and providing physical contact is critical at this time– it is shaping their entire future.
7. It Also Starts Shrinking Back Down Later in Life
For a long time, humans’ brains have been getting smaller across generations and that is a well-known fact. But, did you know that your brain will also shrink over the course of your lifetime?
Current research shows that your brain can begin shrinking as early as age 30 and that that rate will increase again around age 60. The cerebral cortex thins as we age but, certain areas of the brain can lose volume. The synapses that keep our brain cells connected can deteriorate and individual neurons also decrease in size. Some of this shrinkage is considered to be inevitable as it is attributed to natural changes that come with age.
However, there are some cases where shrinkage didn’t occur in aging individuals. One of the most well-known contributors to brain shrinkage is the hormone cortisol, which is our body’s response to stress.
8. There Is Documentation of Successful Brain Surgery Thousands of Years Ago
This is extremely interesting even if it does make the idea of patients being fully conscious during brain surgery a little bit more alarming. Scientists discovered that a significant number of people that lived during the Neolithic era underwent the oldest surgical procedures known to man call Trepanation.
This process involves drilling a hole in the skull to relieve pressure from bleeding around the brain or as a means of draining fluid from inside the skull. The first evidence of this surgery being conducted was on a cow as many as 5,400 years ago, which still has experts scratching their heads as to why such a procedure was performed. Skulls recovered in Germany, Tibet, and many other places around the world provide significant evidence that this was not an isolated practice. It’s unclear, in most cases, what led to the decision to provide this type of medical intervention but it was performed successfully on multiple occasions throughout history.
9. Some People Do Not Have Any Voices in Their Head
There aren’t many opportunities in conversation to bring up whether or not you have an internal monologue or not so, until about a year ago, it was broadly assumed that everyone did. Most people hear their own voice when they think but, there is a significant chunk of the population that does not. This is something that recently took the internet by storm but has been a topic of conversation for psychologists since the 1930s. Anecdotal reports on social media suggest that those without an “inner voice” simply think in concepts.
A psychology professor recently weighed in on the matter and stated that some people think in full sentences all the time, some people never do, and there are some people who only experience it occasionally. There is nothing wrong with not having an internal monologue, though. It doesn’t suggest there is anything amiss in your brain, just that you think in a significantly different way than others. This is fascinating because it shows, again, that thought processes and brain functions are highly individual. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that, whether you have the voice or not, your brain struggles to fathom thinking any differently.
10. …And Some of Them Don’t Have a Mind’s Eye
The stir that was caused by the lack of internal dialogue brought another nebulous concept to the forefront of the internet. Aphantasia is a condition that was first described in the late 1800s in which people do not possess a “mind’s eye.” Individuals with this condition do not have the ability to see images in their mind.
There was a study done in 2015 about it but there is virtually no other research into the phenomenon. Brain scans have proven that some people lack the ability to conjure a mental image but no one has any insight as to why this may happen. Similar to the phenomenon described above, most people cannot comprehend the idea of their brain being any different. If you have aphantasia or you don’t, your brain has no reference point for what the other end of the spectrum may be experiencing. In fact, there are some who still assert that this is impossible and that people are just describing their subjective experiences poorly despite the evidence found in the brain scans.
11. You Think At Over 250 MPH
Neurons in your brain are constantly passing information back and forth; it never stops. There are several factors that contribute to the rate at which humans think. Some brain signals will need to travel further away from their point of origin, whether that is across the brain or to a different part of the body entirely.
The complexity of a thought has also been shown to affect the speed, along with the width of each individual neuron. Wider pathways allow information to move more quickly, for instance. This is something that has been under scientific scrutiny for almost 200 years and studies have shown that the fastest speed that brain signals pass between neurons could be as high as 270 miles per hour. Research has also found that our brains can get faster at thinking with practice and that the ability to slow down our thoughts is critical to our brains and bodies functioning properly.
12. There Is No Such Thing As Multitasking
We know that some of you are going to hate to hear this because multitasking is important, isn’t it? However, it is very widely accepted that multitasking destroys productivity. Your brain simply can not do it. What is really going on in there when you’re bouncing between tasks is something called context-switching. Your brain has to rapidly switch between tasks because you can not focus on more than one thing at a time.
Evidence suggests that you are 50% more likely to make mistakes while trying to multitask. It can also take up to twice as long to complete both tasks. Experiments dating back to the mid-’90s all the way up until now all show the same thing, a significant amount of productivity is lost when you try to keep up this balancing act. Your brain has to go through a process in which you decide to switch tasks and then reorient yourself with the task that you are switching to. This can happen in tenths of a second for most people but, this time adds up. You are also more likely to get distracted by something else when you are consistently bouncing between two distinct areas of focus.
13. Yawning Cools Your Brain Down
Most people think that yawning increases oxygen in the brain. In 2011, when it was first suggested that yawning served another purpose, the information was met with a healthy dose of skepticism even though there was no scientific basis to the claim that yawning increased oxygen levels.
The bombshell revelation about yawning came in 2014 after a study proved that this sleepy deep breath was linked to thermoregulation. It isn’t clear yet why yawns seem to be contagious. Two people in a room can pass a yawn back and forth incessantly and we aren’t sure why. However, we are sure that when you take a deep breath of cooler air from your surroundings, it helps lower the temperature in your brain. There are many factors that can cause your brain to warm up, such as high blood pressure, stress, and an increased heart rate.
All of these things occur when you’re sleep-deprived, or even just tired. The study was also able to find that when it is hotter in the room that you’re in, you’re less likely to yawn because the warm air is not sufficient for cooling your blood.
14. End to End, Your Brain Has Roughly 100,000 Miles of Blood Vessels
The way our bodies are structured means that a lot of things are all neatly folded and packed inside, like our intestines, for example. Our brains are composed of very thin tissue and the cells in our brains function solely on oxygen and glucose, which can only be delivered to those cells through the flow of blood. A lack of oxygen in the brain can be devastating in less than five minutes.
Some science suggests that irreversible brain damage can be caused in just three minutes if the brain is starved of oxygen or glucose. Because of how vital these two nutrients are, we have evolved to have a very rich delivery system. If you took all of the blood vessels from your brain and laid them end to end, they would span almost 100,000 miles, enough to wrap around the Earth four times or reach halfway to the moon.
15. 75% of Your Brain Is Water
Your brain is made up of 75% water. This is a common fact to learn but you may not know that that accounts for 2% of the total water in your body. The effects of dehydration on the brain may seem like exaggerations that you were told to encourage you to reach for a bottle of water before slugging down a sugary soda as a child but, that is not the case. Even slight dehydration can cause serious problems such as difficulty concentrating, mood swings, fatigue, impairments in memory, headaches, and more. Your brain operates on a very delicate balance; not having enough water in your body throws that balance off and the effects are immediate.
The good news is, they seem to be acute. Once you rehydrate, your brain seems to bounce right back. There are not enough significant studies to show if there are any long term effects of dehydration on the brain.
16. Your Brain Can’t Process Differences in Intense Emotions
Have you ever been so happy, or perhaps so angry, that you started crying? This happens to a lot of people and it can be confusing because, obviously, crying is associated with sadness. The fact that we are capable of crying in the first place is quite amazing but, the things that make us cry tell us a very interesting fact about a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This part of our brain is barely the size of an almond and sometimes, it gets a little overwhelmed. Emotional signals are sent from the amygdala and it sets off a chain reaction in our nervous system that instructs our hypothalamus to react. It can’t always differentiate between significantly intense feelings of happiness and feelings of sadness, so it simply activates the part of our nervous system that makes us cry.
17. Easy Access to Information Might Be Bad For Your Brain
As much as we hate to tell you this and risk sounding like your most obnoxious relative, the internet might be making us all slightly stupider. We live in a world where we are not only obsessed with convenience, we have come to demand it. Everything is at our fingertips all of the time with smartphones, tablets, and computers.
This has improved our lives in a lot of ways (Have you ever had a song stuck in your head that you only knew two words of? Ugh.). However, it might be detrimental to our brains.
A joint endeavor between the University of California, Santa Cruz and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, research was conducted to see how quickly a group of people would turn to Google to answer different sets of questions. The study showed that those who were allowed to use their phones to look up the answers to tougher questions returned to the device even when presented with easier questions.
Those who were required to rely on their own memory performed better overall in answering the questions and were faster. This was the first in a string of similar studies that all produced similar results. Because people have the wealth of all information at their beck and call, they’re turning towards it with increasing frequency.
Our brains are designed to be efficient and this repeated behavior can result in our brains no longer storing certain bits of information because it recognizes that it can get it from somewhere else.
18. Brain Freeze is Actually, Technically An Alarm Bell Going Off
No matter how many times you were told to slow down on your ice cream as a kid, it never really sinks in, we understand. Sometimes, you just have to make sacrifices to get what you want, even if it means coming down with a case of sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.
It’s a little bit funny that the scientific term for brain freeze hurts just as much as the acute condition itself, but did you know that it actually serves a purpose? Most people tend to think that eating something too cold too quickly inexplicably makes your head hurt but, as it turns out, that isn’t the case.
When you eat or drink something that’s very cold very quickly, it rapidly cools down your throat. The two main arteries that provide your brain with the blood it desperately needs are located right there and the cold temperature can cause them to constrict just as fast as you’re eating. Your brain leaps into action, trying to protect you from all of the negative effects that come from hypothermia, amping up your blood pressure and causing you a headache as a signal to stop or slow down. It’s trying to protect you from freezing to death.
19. Your Brain Keeps You Partially Awake When Sleeping In New Environments
Do you know the feeling of finally falling into bed after an exhausting day of moving? The same thing can happen on your first night of vacation when you get settled into your hotel; however, the latter example could also be due to excitement about your plans for the next day. Why is it, then, that no matter how tired you are, you can’t sleep to catch the Z’s you’ve been dreaming about all day? Your brain is doing something very strange. Research has dubbed this the First Night Effect. Because your brain perceives that you’re in an unfamiliar area, it only allows its right hemisphere to enter deep sleep. The left hemisphere remains partially awake so that it can monitor the area for potential threats. Scientists are not sure what goes on in the left hemisphere that causes this, but brain monitors showed that this area was more active and more responsive to sounds and movement even though the participant didn’t wake up.
20. Your Short-Term Memory Isn’t Much Better Than Dory’s
Short-term memory is kind of like a built-in sticky note for your brain, even though a lot of people have no idea how short scientists really mean when they say “short-term.”
To the average person, STM is usually considered to be at least a couple of days but, they’re absolutely wrong. Our brains have a very limited short-term memory and research has shown that your brain can only jot down about seven things on its little sticky note and, shockingly, can only hold them for a very short time.
Between 15 and 30 seconds short. In the realm of cognitive psychology, anything past that 30-second mark is considered part of your long-term memory. Part of the reason for this is that even patients with significant cognitive problems or those that seem to have a total loss of memory can hold a little bit of information for just about that long. Another thing that is very interesting is just how tenuous your short-term memory is. One minor distraction such as sound or movement or your thought being interrupted can cause your brain to completely dispose of whatever it was just holding.
21. We Actually Use All Of It, Not Just 10%
This is one of the most long-enduring psychological myths. Although it most likely came from a theory posed by two Harvard psychologists in the late 1800s, it has been misattributed to many notable and intelligent historical figures over the years.
The theory simply posited that people only meet a fraction of their potential but it was quickly picked up and sensationalized by the media in the 1920s. Articles, books, and even entire films have been created based on this idea but it is unequivocally false. It is simply impossible even though it continues to get passed around popular culture as the truth.
As recently as 2013, a survey discovered that more than half of America still believed this catchy bit of pseudoscience. We may not always be using 100% of our brains but the majority of our brain is active the majority of the time. We even use more than the supposed 10% while asleep.
22. The Storage Capacity of Your Brain is Almost Incalculable
There is no concrete information on just how many brain cells we have but the generally agreed upon estimate is 86 billion. If you took a piece of your brain that was the size of a grain of salt, it would contain at least 100,000 neurons and around one billion synapses. It is impossible to truly research the capacity of our brains because, frankly, no one has gotten there yet.
A study published in 2016 found that a conservative estimate for how much information we can store in there would be a petabyte. This is equal to a quadrillion bytes, approximately the same amount of information stored on the entirety of the internet.
Other factors come into play as well, like the fact that your brain never stops making neurons and the fact that it is simply impossible to “run out” of storage in your brain. It is true that cognitive deterioration and the efficiency-preserving nature of our brains will affect how much we can actually know and remember, but as far as what is possible, we may never truly find out.
23. Exercising Your Brain Helps You Protect Your Cognitive Abilities
With the advent of smartphones, we hear even more often that exercising your brain is extremely important. Some of the most successful apps of all time are “brain teasers” or “brain games” that are designed to flex your cognitive muscles a little at a time. See, it is true that your brain is a muscle.
Even though it is natural for your cognition to slowly decrease with age, plenty of research suggests that this process can be slowed or even stopped. In fact, keeping your brain active does more than keep you sharp, it can also help prevent the typical cognitive decline seen in aging populations and can reduce your risk of developing dementia later in life.
Mentally stimulating activities like reading, playing an instrument, and solving puzzles are all great ways to stretch your thinking legs. Even your memory is a skill that can be honed or lost based on how you choose to take care of it.
24. Alcohol Blocks Your Brain’s Ability to Create Memories
Whether getting blackout drunk is just a movie trope to you or your idea of a fun weekend, studies have shown that your inability to find your shoes isn’t because you just forgot. Alcohol has never been shown to kill brain cells and, when consumed moderately, has been shown to reduce the risk of memory deterioration and cognitive decline. So, what’s actually happening?
When you get to a certain level of sloshed, the alcohol turns off the part of your brain that creates memories in the first place. When you are blackout drunk, you’re probably able to walk, talk, and keep the party going. Some people can even (theoretically) drive themselves home in this state. Alcohol consumption causes anterograde amnesia which can be mild (slight disorientation about what exactly happened) or severe (no recollection at all).
There is a lot of research that still needs to be done to understand the full extent of alcohol’s effects on the brain but, you are not able to create new long-term memories when you are drunk. In addition, heavy drinkers are more likely to experience memory loss earlier in life than moderate drinkers.
25. …And You Can Technically Never Remember Your Original Memories
Memory is extremely complicated and it wasn’t until recently that scientists discovered that your brain can’t accidentally forget things, it offloads them on purpose. Several experts say that “lost” memories are still hanging around in your brain, too, you just can’t get to them. The point is, your memory is extremely faulty even at its best.
Science has shown us that we can never recall an original memory; instead, each time we recall an event, we are remembering our last recollection of it. Every time this happens, there is a very significant chance that we are unconsciously altering the memory because our brain just decides to fill in the blanks. As long as the story seems cohesive, plausible, and generally covers what happened… turns out, we just accept it as fact. Because of this, our memories get continually distorted over time.
Some experts claim that our memories can end up becoming completely false because of these minor distortions compounding on one another with each recollection. Each time our brain comes up with a new story, loosely based on that one thing that happened that one time, it just erases the one that came before it.
26. Depression and Other Mental Illnesses Shrink Part of Your Brain
The hippocampus is the part of your brain that is responsible for learning and storing memories. Early research determined that patients with severe depression had smaller hippocampi than their mentally healthy counterparts. Later, one of the largest studies on the subject eventually determined that periods of depression actually cause this part of the brain to shrink. This can make it difficult for people to learn, create or recall long-term memories, and even inhibits appropriate emotional responses.
Trauma, anxiety, and depression can all contribute to shrinkage in this part of the brain and scientists also found that repeated or prolonged episodes showed more significant deterioration than in the comparatively less severe instances. Your feelings and your thoughts can change the structure of your brain over time, and that is very amazing but can lead to really negative results when problems like this are not caught early or are habitually left untreated.
27. …But, Studies Have Shown That it Can Regrow
Depression and anxiety are usually treated with serotonergic medications that help your brain create and properly use the neurotransmitter called serotonin. It is similar to dopamine in the sense that it is responsible for regulating mood.
As you just read, the research found that prolonged or repetitive episodes of mental illness can actually shrink the hippocampus. However, antidepressants offer hope. Healing the brain is not an easy or simple process but, after exploring the effects of long-term treatment with these types of medications, scientists found that it isn’t impossible.
Medicines that treat anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental illnesses with similar symptom clusters can boost neuro regenerative activity in the compromised area of the brain. This shows that when your brain is healthy, it has an incredible capacity to repair itself. This is why taking care of your mental and physical health is extremely important, so you don’t lose cognitive abilities that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
28. People Who Are Forced To Remember More Have Larger Brains
When we say “forced” to remember, what we mean is that people who rely more on their memory to perform their jobs. Just like your hippocampus can shrink, it can also grow larger than that of the average person in the right conditions.
As an example, a study of taxi cab drivers showed that significant structural change can take place in the part of your brain responsible for learning and memory. Brain scans of cab drivers, who need to have extensive knowledge of the area that they serve, showed that they had significantly larger hippocampi than regular people. The process of learning alters the brain and, in the case of the London drivers, memorizing complex information actually increased the size of that part of their brains. This is an incredible example of the way our brains can adapt and change based on what we do and how we choose to use our minds.
29. Reading Aloud Helps You Learn Better, Really
Something extremely curious happens to your brain when you read aloud. It is very well documented that reading aloud promotes brain development. Studies have shown that it increases all sorts of skills such as language acquisition, literacy, and can expand emotional intelligence. This is usually associated with young children, but some recent research suggests that it can be just as beneficial for adults.
Reading out loud engages different parts of your brain than reading silently. In addition to that, when you read something out loud, it can make it easier for you to remember. Hearing yourself speak, producing the sounds with your mouth, and the movement associated with reading out loud all contribute to making it a much more memorable experience than just reading in your head. This might be a strange thing to do, but your brain will thank you the next time you sit down to take a test in college or need to remember notes for a work meeting. It also promotes cognitive performance and helps support it over time when done regularly; it can improve communication skills, create new memory pathways, and strengthens the related circuits that slowly deteriorate with age.
30. Chronic Stress Can Actually Drive You “Crazy”
Mental illness is not something to be taken lightly and we are not intending to make light of it here. However, it is entirely possible to develop severe mental illness and psychosis as a result of stress. Our brains release cortisol when we are stressed, and studies have shown that excessive exposure to cortisol can lead to developing mental illness. Something else that is interesting is that patients with diagnosed psychological disorders fail to properly produce the hormone. This manifests itself in a more innocuous way that you may have experienced for yourself.
Have you ever noticed how much more on edge you are after a scary movie? That is because the high levels of adrenaline and cortisol in your brain need to “spent” somehow, which results in your brain creating or misinterpreting stimulus (read: hallucinating) in order to burn it off.
31. Scratching An Itch Works Because Your Brain Thinks You’re Injured
This is a little bit of a weird one. Histamines are immune responses that cause you to get an itch. They can occur when you’re allergic to something, in which case you would typically take an antihistamine medication to block them. But, what about when you’re just itchy?
It may not be completely clear as to what causes us to get a random itch, but the way that the brain solves the problem just might shock you. Instead of being able to naturally produce hormones to block the itchy feeling, our brain decides to overwhelm the itch with pain. When you scratch yourself, the abrasive feeling of it isn’t what relieves the itch. Instead, the scratch tells your brain that you are in pain, and it sends serotonin and other pain-fighting hormones in the body to that specific area. You may have noticed that this doesn’t always work though, unfortunately. That is because the hormones your brain sends can further agitate the signals that tell your body that you’re itchy. Sometimes this can create maddening cycles of scratching and itching, but thankfully, it tends to subside most of the time.
32. Your Brain Can Eat Itself if You Don’t Eat Properly
We know this sounds like something out of sci-fi horror, but it’s very true. Your brain is capable and completely willing, to self-cannibalize as a last-ditch effort to get the nutrients it needs if you’re not getting them from anywhere else. The scientific term for this is starvation-induced autophagy.
Autophagy is natural and your brain does it every so often as a form of maintenance; however, when it is brought on by starvation, it is anything but natural. Your brain gets energy from the food that you eat because it needs glucose, fatty acids, and other nutrients to sustain itself. When you are not eating enough, your brain takes over for you and starts eating some of its cells so it can release fatty acids. The purpose of this is to trigger you to become hungry; essentially, your brain is trying to trick you into eating so it can get what it needs.
Malnutrition can severely harm your brain in the long run, causing it to shrink, lose neurons, disintegrate existing synapses, and more. These effects are the most damaging in the developmental stages but adults can be equally susceptible if they are starving.
33. Cognitive Skills Begin to Decline Way Earlier Than You Think
Every year, more research is done on exactly when people begin to see the onset of cognitive decline. There is a lot of conflicting opinion in the realm of the experts but, alarmingly, several studies have shown that it happens way earlier than we initially thought.
Published in 2009, this particular study from the University of Virginia suggests that cognitive decline begins very slowly around the age of 27. There are multiple studies that assert the same thing. Research published in 2018 explained that younger adults, the Millennial generation, is actually more forgetful than the Baby Boomers. There are also studies to suggest that women will see the effects at earlier ages than men will. It is unclear exactly what starts the process of age-related cognitive decline but it is interesting that you may be faced with it much earlier than when you actually start feeling old. It’s important to get your mental exercise and take care of your physical health if this is something that you’re concerned about.
34. The Brain Produces Anti Sleepwalking Hormones For You Every Night
While you’re sleeping, your brain pumps your body full of a lot of different hormones to facilitate restful and still sleep. In fact, your brain produces one particular hormone that will render you paralyzed during the deepest stages of sleep, which is when your dreams occur.
The most widely-accepted scientific explanation for this is that your brain is working to make sure that you do not get up and physically act on whatever is going on in your dreams. These same hormones were found to be responsible for sleep paralysis in 2012. Other hormones your brain distributes during sleep include melatonin (which regulates circadian rhythm), as well as a type of hormone that will stop you from wetting the bed.
35. Your Brain Functions Faster Than The Most Powerful Supercomputer on Earth
It’s easy to feel like your phone is a lot smarter than you these days, but you may be surprised to learn that your brain functions faster and at a higher capacity than even the most powerful supercomputer we have.
One of the more recent ways that researchers are comparing our brains to technology is by calculating how fast computers “think.” The study found that the human brain was as much as 30 times more powerful than the world’s fastest supercomputer, the IBM Sequoia. Similar tests from around the world echoed the same results. When programmed to simulate brain activity, the K computer took 40 minutes to replicate just one second of human brain activity.
Even though artificial intelligence and computer processing are actively expanding year by year, most experts agree that we will never be able to create a piece of technology that can mimic the capabilities of our brains.
36. You’re Not Seeing Stars, You’re Seeing Electrical Impulses
It may seem counterintuitive but the part of our brain responsible for our vision is actually located at the back of your head. When you hit your head, your brain can slosh around in the cerebrospinal fluid and hit the back of your skull. Agitating or impacting the part of your brain that processes what you see is what causes this strange acute disruption of your vision.
The reason you may see sparkling or little flashes of light is because the impact can deregulate the electrical impulses that allow your eyes and your brain to communicate. This leads you to perceive those electrical impulses with your eyes. A similar thing happens to the optic nerve when coughing or sneezing, jumbling up the way your eyes and brain work together for a few brief glittery moments. This should always go away within a few seconds and you should seek medical attention if it doesn’t.
37. Your Brain Processes Images Faster Than You Blink
Your brain likes images a lot. Part of the reason why your brain likes images so much is that, as we’ve said before, it is designed to be the most efficient it can be. When you are reading something, your brain needs to send that information through multiple different areas of the brain to process that information.
This happens, in our perspective, immediately. With that said, your brain can process images even faster. Part of this is because your brain doesn’t need to deconstruct visual information in the same way it does when you’re reading or listening to something. A study done by MIT found that your brain only needs to see something for 13 milliseconds to process that information. This is literally faster than you can blink. Before this study was done, it was believed that it took almost ten times as long, which was still exceptionally impressive.
These types of studies also led researchers to the conclusion that your eyes don’t individually process everything they see, instead there is a rapid categorization process where your brain just fills in the blanks.
38. Despite What People Say, Our Attention Span Isn’t Shrinking
In the world of instant information, instant gratification, and micro advertisements, it is very easy to believe the age-old story that our attention spans are gradually getting shorter. Massive publications around the world have pushed this information over the years, stating that humans have lost four seconds worth of being able to pay attention over the past two decades.
They say that we have an attention span of just eight seconds. The truth is, there is no research that backs up that commonly reported statistic. Instead, experts believe that our ability to pay attention to things is task-dependent instead. Because of the way our brains are constantly processing information, attention span is deeply individual and can change on a case-by-case basis. Even the common comparison to the attention span of a goldfish has been debunked. Goldfish have the capacity to learn, so there is no way that they can’t recall or pay attention.
39. Your Brain Feels Like Jello
The brain has a very strange appearance and the average person is never going to hold one, so there are a lot of misconceptions as to what it feels like. They may look very dense and most people assume that they probably have the same texture as the liver. Pop culture doesn’t really care about accuracy either in most horror films or shows. It’s all confusing.
As it turns out, though, brains feel very gelatinous. They are heavy but that is because they are mostly liquid, comprised of water, fatty acids, and some protein. They’re not at all rubbery. Touching a brain, even gently, is enough to deform it because it has no structural integrity. Not only does this highlight the importance of protective headwear when appropriate, but it’s also kind of gross too. Technically, your head is just full of liquid with a blob of fat floating in it.
40. Neuroplasticity Allows Your Brain to Rewire Itself on Its Own
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to rewire and reorganize itself over the course of your life and it is one of the single most amazing things that our brains can do. Neurons in your brain all have assignments and they do a certain set of tasks. A great example is the occipital cortex, the part of your brain responsible for processing visual input.
Even though those neurons were “preprogrammed” for handling visual stimuli, they did something completely different in people who were born blind. Congenitally blind people can’t see, they do not see anything. A 2011 study of congenitally blind individuals showed that their occipital cortex had rewired itself to adapt for their lack of vision; instead, this part of their brain processes auditory input to help with spatial recognition.
Neuroplasticity allows your brain to redirect itself to compensate for injury, disease, or trauma whenever necessary. Our brains can change and adapt to our circumstances at any time and this ability has never been shown to decline with age or otherwise.
41. GPS Is Destroying Our Brain’s Natural Sense of Direction
When our brains learn how to do something, neural pathways are created. Over thousands of years, we cultivated an ability to navigate and understand where we were in the world and how to get to where we needed to go. Primitive navigation was a skill that was developed by using our brains to do it over and over again. But, when you are not actively using a part of your brain, or neural pathways are not being used, they eventually shut down and those neurons assume new roles.
This process is called synaptic pruning, and it is something that we are always doing. Now that people rely so heavily on GPS for getting around, our minds are slowly pruning the natural acuity for navigation that humans once had. This is one of the famed “use it or lose it” skills that are in the process of being lost. This is especially interesting considering the London taxi driver study referenced in this list. Navigating the complicated and busy streets of The Smoke not only strengthened their neural pathways, it actually caused their brains to grow.
42. Sweating Can Shrink Your Brain (Temporarily)
For some people, nothing feels as good as an intense workout. However, working up all that sweat makes something strange happen, however briefly, inside our heads. A study showed that acute dehydration associated with an intense workout can shrink our brains as significantly as one year of aging. This is completely temporary but it is an interesting example of just how reliant on water our brains really are. This is not something that you can expect to happen after hitting the gym but more like after running a marathon. Making sure to rehydrate after getting your sweat on is critical to keeping your brain happy.
43. Your Memories Aren’t All in One Place in The Brain
It’s easy to think about the brain as just one endless filing cabinet that houses all of the moments in our lives but it turns out that it is significantly more complicated than that. The type of memory impacts where it is stored. There are four parts of the brain that are involved with storing your memories and they are the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the cerebellum.
Memories involving fear or pain are stored in the amygdala, the hippocampus helps us recognize things as well as house where we process episodic memories (things we experienced). Muscle memory and similar information are stored in the cerebellum. Whenever you’re remembering things, your brain is piecing the information together from different areas of your brain to create a cohesive experience.
44. Extroverted People and Introverted People Are Actually Wired Differently
It is a common saying, when someone acts a certain way, that they’re just wired up that way. It turns out, that is truer than you may have originally thought. Several years of research suggests that brain chemistry does play a role in what makes people more social or more reserved.
Extroverted people have more active reward centers in their brains. Being a social butterfly may even be genetic, as participants in one study were found to have a more significant reaction to dopamine due to sensitivities in their brains.
Introverted people, on the other hand, were less sensitive to dopamine. There was less activity in their amygdala, which is the part of the brain that controls emotional responses.
45. The Complexity of Your Brain Makes it Subject to Some Strange Disorders
You probably know about mental illness and the complexities of it. Part brain chemistry, part conditioning. Mental disorders can be caused by all kinds of imbalances in the brain and science does a great job in navigating treatment for these problems. Most of the time.
There are some mental disorders that we can observe in people that research hasn’t quite caught up with and the human brain is capable of some very strange things. One of the wild things about mental illness and the brain is that people’s perception is their reality.
Delusions cause people to lose touch with reality and there is often no good explanation as to how they occur or how they continue to occur despite evidence to the contrary of what the patient believes. One of the most baffling is Clinical Lycanthropy, which causes sufferers to truly believe that they are turning into an animal, most often a wolf.
46. You Technically Have a Second Brain (It Just Does Way Less)
Okay, maybe it’s not that serious but it still might shock you. Your brain is responsible for creating all of your neurotransmitters, and for a very long time, that is all science was aware of. Recent studies show really staggering evidence that the bacteria in your stomach also participate in producing a variety of neurotransmitters. Interestingly enough, one of them is serotonin.
A study conducted at UCLA found that a notable amount of people struggling with depression and anxiety experienced the onset of their symptoms following a stomach illness. This could show a lot of promise in preventing these types of illnesses in the future if research continues to progress.
47. 20% of All Blood and Oxygen in Your Body is Used by Your Brain
There are about five liters of blood in the average adult and that amount can vary up or down based on age, weight, and a few other factors. As much as 7% of your body weight is made up of your blood.
It doesn’t seem like much but it’s a little bit wild to think that as small as your brain is in comparison to the rest of your body, it uses 20% of that blood. It also uses 20% of the oxygen in your body, since that is the essential component to sustaining your brain along with glucose.
Every minute, roughly a bottle of wine’s worth of blood flows through your brain. In addition to that, about a quarter of the body’s cholesterol is stored in the brain. Cholesterol is essential for brain health.
48. You Experience Up to 70,000 Thoughts Each Day
One thing that is true for almost everyone, your mind never truly shuts off. Even when you’re just relaxing, your brain is naturally inclined to wander. Except, with speeds of close to 300 miles an hour to transmit information, it’s almost always a race.
Researchers found that the average brain experiences between Misfolded proteins are purged during your slumber; these proteins are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. Short-term sleep deprivation can lead to irritability, appetite disruption, inability to regulate body temperature, and impaired judgment. Sustained sleep deprivation has been proven to cause permanent brain damage. It also leads to psychosis, can permanently impair your brain’s ability to heal itself, and permanently impairs executive function.
Even though the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain are extremely profound, there is still a lot that scientists haven’t figured out. The bottom line is that sleep is absolutely crucial to keep your brain healthy or, quite literally, you could end up paying with your life.
50. The Placebo Effect Is Incredibly Powerful
The Placebo Effect is a term that you have probably heard a thousand times and you may have even used it. It describes the way that you can observe legitimate changes in your life even if it was all based on a placebo or something done for pure psychological benefit rather than something significantly effective.
Even though the placebo effect is quite literally all in our heads, it does something incredible to our brains. The placebo effect is a psychobiological effect that takes place in the brain after they’ve been given inert medication or a fake medical procedure. In a double-blind study, patients with chronic knee pain were given incisions but not actual surgery on their knees and a shocking amount of them actually improved. This suggests that believing something can truly change your body. A lot more research needs to be done, but it’s fascinating how context and perception truly shape our reality when it comes to our brains.