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Nine Brain Quirks You Didn’t Realize You Had

Nine Brain Quirks You Didn’t Realize You Had
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I think the brain is most interesting when it doesn’t work the way you expect it should. Psychology often confirms our intuitions about how our minds work, but it offers quite a few surprises as well. Although some psychology buff’s will have heard a few of these before, here’s a list of quirks in your brain you probably didn’t realize you had:

1) Your short-term memory has a max capacity of seven.

Humans have three forms of memory: sensory, long-term and short-term. Long-term memory is like hard-drive space, while short-term memory works like a very small RAM. This short-term memory can hold only about five to nine (average is seven) items at a time.

Remembering information longer than this requires you to either compress it down into seven units or store it in long-term memory. Most phone numbers are only seven digits.

2) Chartreuse is the most visible color.

Yellow-green, chartreuse, sits right in the middle of the frequencies of visible light. Your eyes have receptors for blue, green and red. Being in the middle, yellow-green triggers the most of these receptors to fire, making it easy to spot. In some cities, firetrucks have been changed from red to a yellow-green color to make them more visible.

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3) Your subconscious is smarter than you are.

Or at least more powerful. In one study, a square was assigned to a location on a computer screen through a complex pattern. After watching it, people began to get results better than chance of picking out where the square would pop up next. But when asked to consciously determine the pattern, even given a few hours, nobody could do it.

4) You have two nervous systems.

One set controls excitation and the other controls inhibition. If you hold out your hand, you might notice minor tremors. This is caused by slight, random differences in the amount each of the two systems are firing.

5) Your brain is awful at probability.

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Okay, so maybe your high-school math teacher could have told you this one. But, what’s interesting isn’t that your brain is bad at probability, but how. In one study recipients were asked:

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.
Rank the following statements from most probable to least probable:Linda is a teacher in an elementary school.

  1. Linda works in a bookstore and takes Yoga classes.
  2. Linda is active in the feminist movement.
  3. Linda is a psychiatric social worker.
  4. Linda is a member of the League of Women Voters.
  5. Linda is a bank teller.
  6. Linda is an insurance salesperson.
  7. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

Almost 90% of students responded that #7 was more probable than #5. This is despite the fact that to be a bank teller and in the feminist movement is completely contained within the set of #5 (just being a bank teller). It seems our minds like to think more details make events more probable, not less.

6) Your memory isn’t great either.

Studies have shown that people are highly likely to misremember past events. Even worse, it is incredibly easy to suggest a memory that never happened. This is why so-called “repressed” memories should be given a lot of thought. It is far easier to suggest a memory of an event never happened, then it is to recover one that actually did.

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7) You can perceive depth with one eye.

It’s a myth that depth perception is entirely the result of having two eyes. Binocular vision does assist in making a three-dimensional picture. However, most of your ability to perceive depth comes from inside your brain. It has been wired to look at angles and proportions to judge distance.

If you required two eyes to perceive depth then most optical illusions wouldn’t work and it would be incredibly difficult to gather information from flat photographs. Not to mention a lot more one-eyed pirates walking overboard.

8 ) Long-term memory shuts down during sleep.

The parts of the brain that transfer information to long-term memory shut down while sleeping. This is why dreams quickly fade away after you wake up. Although you may have several dreams in a night, they aren’t being recorded into long-term memory. Generally only the fragments of a dream left in short-term memory have a chance to be encoded after you wake up.

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9) You have an instant playback feature.

At the beginning I mentioned that humans have three forms of memory, short-term, long-term and sensory. Sensory memory is your brain’s equivalent to an instant playback feature. Working for both your vision and hearing, your thalamus can resend signals a few seconds after they were originally sent.

Imagine being at a party and overhearing someone say your name. Often you can recall what they said even though you were focused on another conversation. This is because your sensory memory re-sends the signals when it finds something important, such as your name. If you lacked this form of memory, activities such as multitasking or taking notes from a speaker would be impossible.

If you’re asked to repeat something you just said because the other person wasn’t listening, just wait a few seconds. Often they can replay the message in their head and give a response.

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Scott H Young

Scott is obsessed with personal development. For the last ten years, he's been experimenting to find out how to learn and think better.

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Last Updated on September 18, 2019

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

What to Write Down

Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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Dates of Events

Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

Names of People

Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

Theories or Frameworks

Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

Definitions

Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

Arguments and Debates

Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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Images

Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

Other Stuff

Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

Your Own Questions

Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

1. Outlining

Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

2. Mind-Mapping

For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

Here’s the idea:

In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

3. The Cornell System

The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

The Bottom Line

I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

More About Note-Taking

Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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