Did you know this about your Brain?
Have you ever tried tickling yourself?
Has it ever worked?
Now you must be thinking about it?
The "Thinking" function you just used, is an amazing function of our brain, an organ that makes us who we are as individuals and as Human Beings.
Our brain is the most intricate component of the human body. This organ is known for its intelligence, interpretation of the senses, initiating body movement, and controlling behaviour. (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke). Everything you are currently doing right now is controlled by that small walnut-shaped organ.
You may think that you know all the functions of the brain, as you may have studied it or heard about it. But think back to the first question, do you know why you cannot tickle yourself? There are some amazing functions like this that is controlled by the human brain you will be shocked to know.
You can't tickle yourself because of an area in the brain called the cerebellum, which monitors and predicts sensations that are caused by your movement and not by someone else. (Hrala). So, when you try to tickle yourself, the cerebellum predicts the sensation and cancels the response of other brain areas to the tickle sensation. Ultimately, the sensation is lost because it’s no longer a surprise or a threat to the person, which they cannot control. (Daily Mail, 2007). Your brain is essentially alerting you that something is touching sensitive areas of your body - mostly your back, feet, or armpits. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a psychologist, and neuroscientist explained that two brain regions are involved in processing such sensations by the body. (Scientific American, 2007). The anterior cingulate cortex processes pleasant information whereas the somatosensory cortex processes touch. According to her research, these regions were less active during self-tickling than tickling performed by someone else. She said that we can train robots to tickle us, however, the time chosen for tickling should be a surprise to us, or else we will not be tickled because our brains are highly active and would expect it. Another interesting fact deals with yawning as one of our most primitive, unconscious and spontaneous processes which are not in our control.
Francis Walshe, a neurologist, researched yawning and concluded that it is activated by a primal centre of the brain that falls outside conscious control. (Konnikova, 2017, 2019). He tested his theory on some paralyzed patients and found that yawning made the paralyzed patients active for approximately six seconds. Johanna de Vries, a professor of obstetrics discovered that the human fetus yawns during its first trimester in the womb and so it is important to realize that yawns are your body's attempt to reach full alertness in situations that require it. (English, 2020). The action itself expands our windpipe, allowing air into the lungs and oxygen into the blood, making us more alert and releases hormones that increase the heart rate and cools a warm brain slightly, providing some relief to the individual. (MUSC Health). Yawning is one of our most primitive, fundamental behaviours, least understood by everyone. It serves as a signal for our bodies to perk up, a way of making sure we stay alert and thus, not limited to signifying we are tired.
Another study states that our brain rewrites history when it makes its choices, changing our memories so that we believe we wanted to do something before it happened. Our brain might be giving us the illusion of free will to make us feel like we have control over our lives, however, in some extreme cases, it might make people feel like they have control over external forces like the climate. Is our brain manipulating us into thinking that free will is real when it is an illusion? (Griffin, 2016). According to numerous philosophers, free will is a figment of our imagination and no one can have it. Our choices are either determined by past experiences or they are random. However, according to psychology, our first guesses, intuitions or impulses are usually the correct choices. Psychologists believe that unconscious processes exert a powerful influence over our choices. Our subconscious is so powerful, we cannot truly trust it when considering our notion of free will. (Nichols, 2011). Research conducted by Adam Bear and Paul Bloom proves that people were made to believe that they had taken a decision using free will even though it was clearly manipulated by the experimenters. (Sainsbury Wellcome Centre). The illusion of choice, however, is supposed to apply to choices that are made quickly and without too much thought. It is quite bewildering to consider that even the most seemingly ironclad beliefs and conscious experiences can be wrong or manipulated by our brain.
Research proved another interesting theory about the brain that it actually needs to forget to perform suitably, simply being adaptive to human nature. If we retained everything, we would be utterly unproductive because our brains would constantly be swamped with unnecessary memories. ( Quanta Magazine). It's because the brain is not aware of what is important, so it tries to retain as much as possible at first, but slowly forgets most things. In other words, ‘forgetting’ serves as a filter to remove all the unnecessary information. Past theories about forgetting mostly emphasized the loss of memories with physical traces of those memories naturally breaking down or becoming inaccessible. This would have involved the spontaneous decay of connections between neurons that encode a memory or failure of systems that would normally help to consolidate and stabilize new memories. (Sainsbury Wellcome Centre). However, according to recent studies, researchers are paying much more attention to mechanisms that actively erase or hide memory engrams. Forgetting is regarded to be mediated by intrinsic forgetting mechanisms which might be the default state of the brain, operating to slowly remove all new or old irrelevant information. Another fascinating fact related to memory and forgetting is that Intoxication makes the brain incapable of forming memories (Drug Rehab).
A common misconception is that people forget after consuming alcohol which is not the case as the memory does not get formed in the brain. Blacking out from drinking is caused by its effect on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory. The main reason for a blackout is a rapid increase in blood alcohol, which is enhanced by drinking on an empty stomach or while being dehydrated. (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). When intoxicated, your brain becomes incapable of storing and recording newly formed memories. These alcohol-induced blackouts temporarily block the transfer of memories from short-term memory to long-term memory in the hippocampus. (Scaccia). Alcohol-induced blackouts can lead to a drastically increased risk of injuries and other harms to self as well as others irrespective of their age or level of experience. However, sensory and short-term memories continue to function. (Harlow, 2020). Researchers believe that the people who experienced blackouts can access those memories again if someone triggers them. Apart from memory and forgetting, researchers also focused on the quantity and kind of thoughts which actually take place in a human brain.
Various researches have indicated that the human brain has between 50,000 and 70,000 thoughts a day and sadly most of these are negative thoughts (Barok 2017). Most of these thoughts go unnoticed as they seem to be useless or unimportant to the individual, especially in situations when you are occupied like when eating, dressing up, driving, walking, painting, bathing, etc. These thoughts range from questions you ask yourself to repeat and commenting on what others said. They occur when you are alone, or when you have company, the goal being to figure out the world and most importantly yourself. (Sasson, 2021). Thinking is an automatic process and it is only when you focus on some particular thing that you become aware of the many thoughts in your mind that distract you. It is most noticeable when you are feeling anxious or worried as these thoughts feel highly tiring and burdensome then. Our brain usually filters these thoughts to ensure the relevant ones stay with us. According to NLP, the brain filters information through DDG: Deleting, distorting, and generalizing. . (Harlow, 2020).. According to current estimates, 95 percent of all thoughts occur in the subconscious mind. These decisions and thoughts could be in the form of habits, beliefs, automatic body functions, emotions, cognitive biases, and personality. This means that most of these actions and behaviors occur due to brain activity that lies beyond our conscious awareness.
Studies have also demonstrated another intriguing information about our cravings which might actually be indicating what lacks in our diet and what we need, however, these cravings might be representing our nutritional deficiencies (Freedman, 2019). All of us have food cravings that give us the urge to seek and consume a particular food. You know the feeling you have of not being satisfied until you eat that one, specific snack. Cravings of something salty like chips could be linked to iron, calcium, or sodium deficiency. The most identifiable thing about the foods people crave is that they are high in sugar, fat, and calories like French fries, ice cream, etc. Cravings have psychological ties as well. According to research, pleasant memories and feel-good hormones produced by “comfort foods” lead to a conditioned response of craving them. (Tufts Now, 2014). Not only this, a depressed mood or a highly stressful situation might trigger your brain to ‘crave’ foods that produce hormones like serotonin which elevates the mood, like chocolates. (Donvito). Vegetables, whole grains, most fruits, and lean protein can all be crossed off the list of foods people crave because people don’t crave them to the point of being powerless to resist eating them. Cravings occur in the short-term memory and we can push them out by focusing on a task.
These studies on the human brain bust various myths and misconceptions about the brain. Human brain is often referred to as the ‘crowning achievement of evolution’ as it controls the way we feel, act and also enables us to store our memories, which truly makes us human.
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(n.d.). To Remember, the Brain Must Actively Forget. Quanta Magazine. Retrieved 3 April 2021, from https://www.quantamagazine.org/to-remember-the-brain-must-actively-forget-20180724/
Sasson, R. (2021, January 21). How Many Thoughts Does Your Mind Think in One Hour? Success Consciousness. https://www.successconsciousness.com/blog/inner-peace/how-many-thoughts-does-your-mind-think-in-one-hour/#:%7E:text=Experts%20estimate%20that%20the%20mind,60%2C000%20%E2%80%93%2080%2C000%20thoughts%20a%20day.&text=Other%20experts%20estimate%20a%20smaller,be%20rich%20in%20no%20time
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This Blog on 'Did you know this about your Brain? has been contributed by Pranjali Rai, who is currently pursuing BA in psychology from Sophia College, Mumbai. She is an ambitious and results-driven individual. She loves to learn about the human psyche and hopes to raise awareness about mental health, gender issues, and cruelty to animals.
She is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP). GIRP is an IJNGP initiative to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.