3 Stupidly Useless, Pointless & Amazing Facts About the Human Brain

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After a series of long & detailed posts, let me share something fun and amusing. Let’s look at 3 amazingly surprising and interesting quirks of the human brain. The word “fact” is used for creating some dramatic influence. A more accurate description would be interesting psychological findings.

1. Side-to-Side eye movements can temporarily boost memory

Move your eyes side-to-side for about 30 seconds, and that will give you a slight memory boost. You’ll have an increased capacity to recall what you learned just before, according to this research[1]. This eye movement is a deliberate & repetitive saccadic movement and this only improves the retrieval/remembering aspect of memory.

It only works for right-handed people.

Why does this happen?

Simply put, both your eyes cross over and connect to multiple areas on both sides of your brain – the left hemisphere and right hemisphere. When you move side to side, you engage the brain on a holistic level which is different from your default.

Forcing a cross-talk between multiple regions avails more resources for you to recall things. Availing more mental resources translates into better memory for what you recently learned.

Why does this not work for left-handed people?

The best explanation is that their default cross-talk (between the 2 brain hemispheres) is higher. Lefties can’t hijack this technique to avail more resources because they might already be at the upper limit. In fact, because of biological differences between left and right-handed people, this may even temporarily hurt the left-handed person’s recall. This could happen because forcing the brain to avail more resources could destabilize an existing equilibrium of default cross-talk.

What about ambidextrous people?

I don’t know, try learning some random list or a chunk of information and then do this for 30 seconds and find out.

Note: Please be mindful of your medical conditions before manipulating your brain with eye movements. This post is purely informational and shouldn’t be construed as medical advice.

2. Your ears look before your eyes do

You know… when I ask you to look left or right and you do, your ears move too.

Yup, when you move the direction of your eyes, your eardrums move along with it[2]. But that is not the coolest thing. The coolest thing is that the eardrums move up to 10 milliseconds before your eyes turn.

This is a conjecture explaining the phenomenon:

Your sensory inputs integrate information to create a sensation, and then they create a perception of it. When you are looking and building a visual scene, you are assimilating information from multiple senses:

  1. Vision
  2. Audition
  3. Proprioception
  4. Kinesthetic sensation: movement of the body, how physical forces affect you

When you look in a particular direction, you are building a visuo-spatial scene. That is, how things look and where they are placed in a location.

Your ears also contribute based on sounds in a field. The most accurate perception of a scene would be full of rich sensory information, this includes sounds.

It is possible that your ears move to accommodate this information with reference to where you are looking, so the ‘spatial’ aspect of your perception is maintained.

This could also help when vision is compromised (blindness, dim lights, night-time, etc.) Ears would then help build a perception of your surrounding using other cues based on sounds.

Why this happens before the eyes move is unverified but I’ll venture into a few possibilities.

  • Sounds may help prime the brain for creating a visual field and generate expectation based visual features first.
  • The neurons that help move the eyes might bleed into those which move the ear somewhere in the whole network of signals. No function, just a random artifact of brain biology.
  • Eardrum movement may help build the visual or spatial component in parallel with other information entering the eyes.
  • Ears and eyes have a 2-way assistive role where one helps the other by default. Some process associated with visual perception might modulate hearing before auditory perception.

We will have to wait and test various explanations but the fact remains – eardrums do move when the eyes move and they move before the eyes move. This research is in the field of multi-sensory perception. You might find this experiment fun and fascinating.

3. Women are better than men in math and verbal tasks at higher room temperatures

Women perform better on math and verbal tests at higher temperatures, while men perform better on the same tests at lower temperatures, according to a study[3] conducted in 2019 on German students (n=543). Researchers found that, within an indoor temperature range of 16 to 33 degrees celsius, women perform better at the warmer end.

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This insight has a few more nuances – the decrease in math and verbal performance in men compared to baseline is less dramatic than the increase in women’s performance. There are limitations to these changes in cognitive performance. While math and verbal tasks are affected by temperature, cognitive reflection isn’t.

Cognitive reflection tests a person’s ability to problem-solve where the intuitive answer is different from the objectively correct answer. A famous example of this is – “A bat and a ball cost 1 dollar 10 cents. The bat costs 1 dollar more than the ball. What is the cost of the ball?” Most people tend to quickly jump to the answer “10 cents.” But, the correct answer is 5 cents. 5 cents (ball) + 1 dollar & 5 cents (bat) equals 1.10 dollars. Most people get stuck on the intuitive answer of 10 cents because they compute the difference between the 2 givens without acknowledging inherent biases. These biases can reduce the validity of one’s interpretation & inferences based on the givens.

There you go, if you want a productive mixed-gender work culture, make sure you give enough control over the thermostat. Why does this happen? Previous research[4] shows that women prefer a slightly higher (by 1 to 3 degrees celsius) indoor temperature than men. The answer to why higher temperatures make women better at math and verbal tasks is unknown but there is a speculative explanation. It is possible that overall comfort affects cognitive performance and warmer temperatures are more comfortable for women. Women tend to value thermal comfort more[5] than auditory comfort – the comfort generated by the right temperature and clothing is more valuable than the discomfort of background noise.

The interesting thing about this temperature-cognitive performance link is that the study’s female participants reported more correct answers as opposed to not reporting any answer. More correct answers were probably reported due to an increase in effort. This increase in effort is, probably, facilitated by overall comfort. A related interpretation is that women are willing to work harder than men at higher temperatures. A related concept is the survivorship bias, you might find that interesting.

This psychology fact is limited by its sample. While the cognitive abilities of the sample were fairly homogenous, the study only looked at University students from Berlin. Generalize this insight with caution, or don’t generalize at all:) But, if you do want to fight over the room’s temperature, you can divert your attention to this body of research.

Did you enjoy these amazing pseudo-facts about the human brain? If you know some other mindblowing psychology facts, do share them in the comments!

Have fun inserting this random brain trivia in conversations:)

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