86 Amazing Facts About The Human Brain
In 2012 I wrote a book called ’70 Amazing Facts About Your Brain’ and it did rather well.
As such I decided to rewrite it, add some new super cool facts and present it as a blog post called 86 Amazing Facts About The Human Brain.
If you’d like the original as an ebook that also contains a story at the end explaining how some of the things I talk about can trip you up, you can sign up for my newsletter and get it for free.
Otherwise, read on, have fun and amaze your friends (possibly) with some incredible factoids about the lump of butter like substance you carry around with you everywhere you go.
86 Amazing Facts About The Human Brain
1) You have a finite amount of willpower each day because to exercise your willpower you need energy in the form of oxygen and glucose.
That’s why it’s harder to say ‘no’ when you are tired or not feeling yourself and this process is known as ego depletion.
You can artificially boost your willpower by drinking an energy drink packed with sugar and caffeine, but a good nights rest is a much more useful and healthy option.
A thought is a physical pathway in the brain. The more you have that thought the more you groove and strengthen that path and the easier it is to have it again and again.
That’s why having the thought “Why do I suck?” is never a great idea because you start to create a self fulfilling prophecy as it becomes harder and harder to shake the belief that you suck.
Your brain hates holding two contradictory opinions at once because it creates cognitive dissonance, so when you tell yourself you suck your brain seeks out information to back up what you are saying.
And trust me it will find it and ignore contrary evidence. This is something called ‘Conformation Bias’.
And by the way, you don’t suck, you’re lovely the way you are, so start telling yourself that instead.
How Many Thoughts Do You Have?
3) Contrary to popular belief nobody really knows how many thoughts any one person has each day although the oft quoted 70,000 is probably not true and it’s more than likely to be far less.
4) However, you have many hundreds if not thousands and many will be the same ones looping round and round on your grooved cranial superhighway.
And that is why we know that the quality of your thoughts is highly correlated to the quality of your life – and no, it has nothing to do with the Law of Attraction.
Think great thoughts and you’re way more likely to lead a great life. It really is that simple if sometimes difficult to actually implement.
As the great philosopher and psychologist, William James once said, “The greatest breakthrough in my life time is the realization that man can alter his life by altering his thinking”
5) Reading out loud to kids under the age of 5 accelerates their brain development and considerably helps build neural connections.
Those connections can then help with further learning as they grow older.
So don’t throw your kids on front of the TV and turn on Scooby Doo or give them an iPad to stare at as you answer e-mails.
Read them creative stories if you want them to grow intellectually and provide for you in your old age.
6) Scientists have proven beyond any reasonable doubt using fMRI’s that reframing negative situations literally rewires your brain by creating new neural pathways.
Reframing can can make you a happier and more laid back person and more able to manage adversity if and when it srikes.
Very briefly and in case you are unaware, a reframe is where you decide to look at a negative situation in a more empowering light.
It doesn’t involve changing the actual event (that would be delusional) just adjusting your view of it. If you want to get good at reframing simply ask yourself the following two questions (or whichever is most pertinent at the time) when things aren’t going to plan.
What else can this mean?
What can I learn from this?
7) Your brain is approximately 75% water, but you should never drink it even if you’re really thirsty, and anyway my guess is, it wouldn’t taste very pleasant.
It does suggest though that keeping hydrated is important for the health of your brain, so drink plenty of water.
And no, coffee doesn’t count because it has water in it. Coffee is a diuretic and more likely to dehydrate you.
Note: There is much less scientific research into the exact amount of water we should drink each day contrary to popular belief, but it is unlikely you will drink too much.
I Need The Restroom
8) How many times have you been driving home, in a meeting or out shopping and really needed the bathroom urgently?
How many times didn’t you make it?
The answers are probably lots and none unless you had a nasty stomach bug that didn’t care if you retained your dignity.
But I bet you thought you only just made it in time on many occasions, and that you wouldn’t have lasted another second, never mind a few minutes.
That’s just your brain tricking you. As it realizes you are close to a bathroom it relaxes the muscles holding it in knowing you’re good to go – quite literally.
9) Your brain only weighs about 3lbs yet the greedy bastard uses between 20% and 25% of your energy supplies each day.
To work efficiently and to allow you to get the most out of it, it requires regularly hydration (as we have already mentioned) and high quality food.
If you put junk in to your body in the form of highly processed foods, excessive amounts of alcohol and sugar you will limit the efficacy of your brain.
As computer nerds say – ‘Junk in – Junk Out’
You will also probably pile weight on stressing your heart and pissing off your brain which is wondering what the hell you are up to.
Some Pretty Big Numbers
9) There are approximately 10 to the power of 60 atoms in the universe.
That’s a rather large number, right?
Well, your brain laughs in the face of that figure.
It has 10 to the power of 1,000,000 different ways it can wire itself up.
That’s the number 10 followed up with 1 million zeroes, which is to all intents and purposes (for anybody not called Neil deGreasse Tyson or my old school Maths teacher), is an infinite amount of ways.
10) Speaking of large numbers, there are approximately 1.1 trillion cells and 100 billion neurons in the average human brain.
11) A piece of brain tissue the size of a grain of sand contains approximately 100,000 neurons and 1 billion synapses.
12) The slowest speed information passes around your brain is approximately 260 mph.
13) A child builds up to 1 trillion synapses in it’s first year of life.
14) Your sensory system sends about 11 million bits of information to your unconscious brain per second.
However, the conscious part of your brain is not aware of more than 16 to 50 of those bits and the lightweight can only deal adequately with about 3 or 4.
15) There are over 100,000 miles of blood vessels in your brain. So if you pulled all yours out we could stretch them round the earth over 4 times.
Unfortunately, you wouldn’t be around to see your amazing achievement, but you probably would make the Darwin Awards and that’s no mean feat.
The Unconscious Part of Your Brain
16) You are completely unaware of about 95% of the activity that is going on inside your brain. If you weren’t your brain would freeze up quicker than a Windows PC running ME.
17) If you don’t take care of your brain, you can lose up to 85,000 brain cells a day and that’s a large part of what causes aging. With appropriate forethought however, you can reverse that trend and slow the aging process.
So don’t smoke, don’t drink alcohol to excess, eat a diet free from processed foods with plenty of leafy greens, exercise regularly, meditate and even if you don’t live any longer it will definitely seem like it.
18) Until relatively recently scientists thought that the brain was the only area of the human body that didn’t generate new cells. We now know that’s not true and the brain does reproduce shiny new cells for you to use or abuse and lose bearing in mind the last point
19) If you lose blood flow to your brain you will last about 10 second before you pass out.
20) Your brain has no pain receptors which is why if I managed to remove the top of your skull without you noticing I could poke around all day without you feeling a thing.
The skull removal may hurt a bit though.
21) Even though we say the amygdala regulates danger, the cerebellum – motor control, and the limbic system as a whole – emotions etc, this is somewhat misleading as no part operates independently and all need other parts of the brain to get their job done to full effect.
22) Leaving aside degenerative brain disease, your brain never loses the ability to learn, change and adapt to new situations, because it’s effectively plastic and constantly rewiring itself depending on the context and the work you put in.
Leopards may indeed not change their spots, but you’re not a leopard and you can change if you really want to that is, and your brain is up for the challenge whenever you are.
Note: if you are indeed a leopard, well done on learning to read and my apologies for doubting you.
Self Development Urban Myth
23) It’s a self development urban myth that we only use 10% of our brains capability.
I once saw somebody on Twitter try to explain the Law of Attraction based on this faulty and quite frankly ridiculously outdated premise.
He suggested that if we can do what we can now using 10% of our brain, manifesting should be a breeze when we tap into the other 90%.
Now he may be the exception that proves the rule and indeed may have only been using 10% of his brain power, but he’s not normal in that respect.
If you have any doubt whatsoever that you do indeed use all of your brain cut a bit out and see what happens.
Just don’t sue me afterwards if you lose the ability to plan, forget how to tie your shoelaces, can’t remember what your name is, fall over a lot or get angry for no apparent reason.
24) In 1849 a railroad worker named Phineas Gage had an horrific accident when an explosion caused a railroad iron to be driven through his skull. Amazingly he wasn’t killed.
A-ha! You may be thinking, so we don’t need all of our brain after all.
Well yes and no. Gage’s personality changed for the worse, his ability to plan properly was lost, he became prone to violent outbursts and he ended up dying at the age of 36.
25) There is no scientific proof that eidetic (photographic) memories exist. Many people have claimed they have them, but nobody has been able to prove it in a scientific setting.
26) If you were to measure your brainwave activity you wouldn’t see any drop off whatsoever when you’re asleep.
You may be napping, but your brain isn’t.
It’s still working hard pumping your heart, digesting your food, maintaining your blood pressure, processing the days events, and much more to make sure you don’t wake up dead.
27) Research has shown that the hippocampus which is the part of the brain that deals with visual-spatial awareness, is larger in London Taxi drivers than normal people.
London ‘cabbies’ have to spend months, sometimes years, learning literally every single street in the UK’s Capital before they are granted a license to rip off tourists and kill cyclists.
This process is known as ‘The Knowledge’ and it literally enlarges that part of their brain.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t help them with anger management issues when cars get in their way or stop them saying, “South of the river at this time of night? That will be double guv’nor”.
28) Speaking of scientists getting things potentially wrong, there was a common belief that yawning was the body’s way of getting more oxygen into the bloodstream when it felt fatigued.
That may still be true, however research conducted at Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience suggests that yawning may also help cool the brain when the air is cooler outside the body than inside.
Apparently this was based on studies that showed people in Tucson, Arizona yawned almost twice as much in the winter as they did in the summer.
This may seem like research to file under the “WTF are they wasting money on that for?” until you realize it may give an insight into diseases like multiple sclerosis and epilepsy that are accompanied by frequent yawning.
You’re Not As Tired As You Think
29) Are you familiar with the expression in sports ‘to leave everything out on the field”
If not, have you ever been working out and known you simply cannot run another yard or lift another weight?
Your brain is up to it’s old tricks of lying to you again.
It will on average try and retain about 20% of your energy resources in case it needs them for life threatening emergencies.
Marathon runners know this as hitting the wall when their brain is saying ‘OK sunshine you have done enough, time for a nap’ but they push on through regardless knowing there is more energy to be tapped.
30) Exercise has also been proven to help repair damaged brain cells, so get off you ass and to the gym.
31) People who exercise before work deal with stress better, have better information retention and are more able to deal with complex situations.
32) You have something in your brain called mirror neurons. If you see somebody stub their toe for example, the same pain area will light up in your own brain causing you to flinch.
Mirror neurons weren’t even known to exist prior to the early 1990’s, but now there is a growing belief in the scientific community they are responsible for us feeling empathy toward others.
33) When somebody takes cocaine their pleasure center (nucleus accumbens) lights up and dopamine and serotonin are released to create a feeling of well-being.
Fortunately, you don’t have to blow your life savings, act like a dick and lose your nasal lining to get similar results.
Giving to charity or helping people in need also activates the nucleus accumbens.
Okay so maybe not quite as intensely but who cares because you’re creating a real win/win and have no need to spend most of your life skulking around in bathrooms hoping to avoid getting arrested.
34) The reason it’s uncomfortable when people stare hard at you is because your brain automatically perceives it as a threat.
A smile breaks that discomfort though, as long that is, it’s a genuine warm smile.
35) Your brain can usually tell the difference between a real smile and a fake one (which is why people that fake smiles a lot often look slimy) because there are muscles that you cannot control consciously and only come into play when you are truly smiling about something that makes you happy or warm and fuzzy.
Having said all that, you actually CAN fake a smile if you are skilled enough to fake the emotion behind the smile first so that even your brain thinks you’re happy. Method actors and some politicians are adept at this. Beauty competition contestants, not so much.
Sorry, But You Almost Certainly Cannot Multi-Task
36) Multi-tasking is largely a self development urban myth and you probably cannot do it efficiently no matter what manufacturers of smart phones and tablets want you to believe.
Actually that’s not technically true because according to the University of Utah, there are a few people (about 2.5% of the population) who can do two things consciously* at once without seeing any degradation in performance.
The term super-taskers has been coined for such people.
However, for most people all the brain is doing is going backwards and forwards very quickly and giving the illusion of multi-tasking.
* I do appreciate that you can do multiple things unconsciously at once such as driving and talking.
37) Performance is inhibited by trying to multi-task and not improved.
According to David Rock in his outstanding book ‘Your Brain At Work’ (al) doing just two things at once can reduce the performance of a Harvard Professor to that of an 8 year-old child.
38) The above explains why according to research (some of which has been undertaken at Virginia Tech University) you’re 23 times more likely to have an accident if you are texting at the same time – don’t do it, ever!
39) You may think you have a good memory, but I doubt it’s as good as Rajveer Meena, a guy from India.
He currently holds the world record for remembering the number Pi (π) to 70,000 decimal places.
40) Elephants actually do have better memories than humans but look like total beginners when compared to the Clarks Nutcracker Bird which has the greatest memory of any animal on the planet.
41) Your brain is constantly lying to you when you have your eyes open because it cannot deal with every single detail that you’re looking at.
Your occipital lobe is constantly joining the dots with what it presumes is there based on small fragments of what it really sees.
42) Similarly, your brain doesn’t record memories like video as it would be easy to assume.
It takes snapshots of the more important bits and then when you recall the event it guesses what happened in between based on prior experience and generalizing.
Much Of What You Think You Know – You Really Don’t
43) Your brain finds it very easy to create false memories largely because of the above, and the fact that it spends so much time guessing what’s happening.
When scientists exposed people to Photoshopped images of themselves at various event years prior they were soon able to explain what they were doing and recall the event with clarity even though they were never there.
There will be events you swear blind happened the way you remember, but never actually did.
A sobering thought, and one to remind yourself when you are about to get into a heated argument about how your spouse made a complete fool of himself after too many glasses of wine and fell on the Christmas cake at your parents.
I never did that it’s a false memory my wife created to explain frosting on my nose and a hand print on the cake.
44) Your brain is fairly poor at distinguishing between what’s really happening and what you are merely imagining. Which is why horror films and roller coaster rides scare people and porn films, er…ahem, well you know what I mean.
45) It also partly explains why visualization works so well because it primes and trains the brain for future events without even having to leave the comfort of your own bed if you don’t wish to.
46) Your peripheral vision improves at night which is why airline pilots are taught to use their peripheral vision when looking for traffic.
Keep Still – Damnit!
47) Your eyes are constantly moving even if that movement is usually imperceptible to you. So you may wonder why the images you stare at are not jiggling slightly too.
The answer is, your smart brain realizes what is happening and uses other objects in your visual field as reference points and keep everything locked together and seemingly as one stable image.
However, if I threw you in a pitch black room with only a spot of light on one wall you’d soon be claiming that it was moving.
Without any other reference points your brain is no longer compensating and your natural eye movement creates the illusion that the light is moving, when in reality it’s static.
48) You may (or indeed you may not) know that you need to blink to clear away dust particles and spread lubricating fluids across your eyeballs to keep them functioning properly.
But why on earth doesn’t the world go black for about the one tenth of a it takes you to blink?
This is similar to the fact that your brain makes up pictures from tiny fragments of information as previously discussed. Only this time your brain is clever enough to ignore the blink and maintain the image of what you were looking at prior to your eyelids closing
49) Your brain is very poor at concentrating for long periods of time and needs to clear it’s head so to speak about every 90 minutes or so.
Which is why if you’re delivering training and you want to maximize results, you should steer clear of Tony Robbins style immersion training. Allow people to take lots of mini breaks rather than one long break for lunch as is often the case.
50) The reason why some Chinese born people struggle to pronounce words like ‘fried’ is not because they can’t be bothered to learn them, as I ignorantly and embarrassingly believed when I was younger. It’s because no similar pronunciation is needed in the Chinese language.
Therefore, if they are not exposed to the English language before around the age of 3, that part of the brain is allocated to other purposes and thus their ability to form the word correctly massively inhibited. It can be done, but it is very difficult so don’t judge them.
51) Your brain insists you spend roughly one-third of your life asleep.
52) No human can go without it for more than a a few days, which is why sleep deprivation is a weapon of choice for armies the globe over when trying to ‘break’ soldiers wanting to enter the special services.
But even though you spend so much time asleep and it has been the subject of thousands of scientific studies we still don’t know a fat lot about it.
53) We do know that it’s the time when your brain does a lot of it’s necessary maintenance work including the production of chemicals needed to get you through the following day.
54) Several theories point to sleep as a state vital to memory and learning. It may help ingrain memories into long-term storage, and it also may simply give us some time off from our mental waking activities.
55) Your brain was disproportionately large compared to other organs when you were born.That’s why babies look a bit like aliens. Not yours of course, yours are cute, just other peoples babies.
56) Speaking of babies. Their most heightened sense at birth is touch and not their ability to scream as you might imagine.
For about the first 12 months they do much of their learning through simply touching things, which is why over the top “baby proofing” a house isn’t always a great idea unless you want your kids to grow up thinking everything on the earth is made of foam and/or rubber.
57) There is a growing belief that human beings like Monarch butterflies have an inbuilt compass although research at this stage in in it’s early stages and obviously that’s only women because men are clueless when it comes to such things.
Give Me A Hug
58) if you’re feeling a bit down, rather than reaching for the vodka bottle give a loved one a 20 to 30 second hug.
This will cause the brain to release oxytocin which will make you feel better.
59) Research is suggesting that a gut instinct can literally be a gut instinct and that there is a mini-brain operating inside your stomach. Again the research is in its early days, but it’s a fascinating concept nonetheless.
60) Your neocortex (the weird looking bit on the outside of the brain) is only about as thick as a dinner napkin and is made up of 6 layers. However, if you were to pull yours out and stretch out the folds it would be over 3 feet square.
Unfortunately your planning skills would diminish rapidly and your ability to put it back in properly would be less likely than assembling a bed from Ikea correctly without an intimate knowledge of Swedish and schematics drawn up by an excited 8 year-old.
61) Very strangely you are about 4 times more likely to marry somebody with the same last name as yourself.And I’m not referring to marrying another member of your family.
Your brain just loves familiarity even to the point of preferring people with the same name as you. Weird eh?
62) And by the way that familiarity extends way past names. You are more likely to prefer somebody who does the same job as you, supports the same sports team, is the same nationality, belongs to the same club or group or even has the same type of dog.
That’s why doberman owners rule, yeh baby!
63) If you were to get up off the couch and sprint hard for 20 seconds or so you would increase the workload on your muscles by about 100x.
However, if you sat down with Gary Kasparov after recklessly challenging him to a chess match after one too many beers, no matter how hard you concentrated you’d only require your brain to increase its workload by about 1%. You’d also lose……quickly.
64) You’re 40 – 60% more likely to buy food you can reach out and touch than food somebody describes to you or places behind a counter.
The old fashioned sweet trolleys really do generate more sales and top restaurants know this.
How Your Brain Gets You To Spend More Money
65) You are far more likely to tip a waiter or waitress more if it’s a sunny day because the chemicals released in your brain put you in a more genial and generous frame of mind.
Having said that, the effect of this if you live in a really hot country where sunshine is the daily norm is minimized.
66) Speaking of tipping, you are a lot more likely to increase your gratuity to a waiter who has gently touched your arm as you were ordering. You may not have even noticed the touch, but your brain has and it has equated that touch with friendship and familiarity.
67) And even more on eating. Your brain associates elaborate words and descriptions with higher quality.
Therefore it is happier for you to pay more for potato chips described as being dusted in cracked black pepper and dipped in sea salt than it would be for plain old salted potato chips.
68) Almost unbelievably the same goes for fancy fonts in fancy restaurants that charge fancy prices. Spot an old English type of font and you’re brain will unconsciously tell you the item is worth more.
69) Even though you may think you aren’t influenced by the store assistant saying how amazing you look in the purple, yellow-spotted dress, you really are at an unconscious level.
If you see an item you would normally only be vaguely interested in listed at $500 and then see it’s in the sale at $250 you have just been anchored.
Your brain now thinks ‘Bargain! This is really worth $500! I’m saving money’ and conveniently forgets that you probably didn’t really want it that much.
70) The reason why rats can sometimes beat humans in certain laboratory tests is because they have no prefrontal cortex to plan with.
So they listen exclusively to their unconscious mind and the associated electrical responses or gut feelings. Whereas humans can get all wrapped up in trying to plan their best way out of the maze and end up cheeseless.
71) Your brain doesn’t want you trying to fly when you’re asleep after you went to see Spiderman, so in effect it paralyses your body with a hormone designed to keep you from living out your dreams.
72) If you exercise your brain with puzzles, memory games and reading excellent self development blogs like A Daring Adventure you can continue to grow new neurons all your life.
Unfortunately most people don’t know this and thus presume aging equals cognitive decline and sadly create a self fulfilling prophesy
73) As I alluded to already, what you eat effects the efficiency of your brain.
A study of New York students showed that those who ate food filled with additives and artificial flavors were out performed by about 14% by those who ate more healthily.
74) Whereas 30% of your brain is given up to vision and all that goes with that such as spatial awareness, depth perception and recognition etc, your sense of smell is still the easiest way to create conditioned responses/reflexes (or anchors as they are called in NLP).
Smells enter the brain completely unfiltered by your belief system unlike other senses – which is why smelling salts can be used to bring somebody out of a concussion, even if that is no longer considered wise.
75) The reason blind people often (although this isn’t always the case) have other enhanced senses is because the brain thinks:
“Huh. I guess we’re not using that 30% for vision after all, we may as well use it for something else” and thus builds new neural pathways for the other senses.
76) The reason you can’t tickle yourself is because your cerebellum knows it’s you doing the tickling and sends a message to the rest of your brain to ignore the sensation and refuses to laugh. The miserable bastard!
77) Don’t be too hard on the cerebellum though because it controls your balance and without it you’d make a drunken 3 legged donkey on an ice skating rink look like an Olympic gymnast.
78) If you get really annoyed or angry your limbic system has taken over your critical thinking and it can actually become impossible to access higher reasoning.
Which is why some people can go postal and nothing anybody can say can calm them down.
Fortunately if you remove the source of their anger the Limbic system returns to normal after about 20 minutes. So don’t count to 10 when you’re mad, count to 1,200!
79) It is thought that the brain issues the command to cry as a way of alerting others that we are in distress.
It is also thought that crying is the bodies way of eliminating potentially harmful proteins and hormones, so maybe a good cry really does do you good.
80) When we get embarrassed we blush and some people then blush even more when they realize they are blushing, but do you know why the brain issues the instruction to the veins in your face to dilate?
No neither do I and nor do scientists. Like hiccuping there is no known reason or benefit.
What The F?
81) Unless you have done this test before you’ll probably fail miserably at counting the F’s in the following sentence:
FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.
There are actually six ‘F’s’ but your brain will have struggled to spot the ones in the word ‘of’ as it tends to disregard that word because we pronounce it phonetically as ov and our brain misses the ‘f’
82) Your brain is so soft that you could probably spread it on toast if you were completely insane and liked eating human brains and dying all at the same time
83) Worryingly 70% of college football players get at least on concussion per year.
Concussions are not to be sniffed at or taken lightly because they are cumulative and can potentially lead to depression, suicidal thoughts and dementia later in life.
84) After about the age of 25 and just as we reach peak development the brain starts slowly shrinking.Some research has suggested that the male brain shrinks faster than the female one (no a surprise to the female population).
85) When whole body scans are performed on people, the brain is so active, compared to the rest of the body, that it looks like a small, powerful heater, while everything else appears almost ghostlike.
86) The size of the Human Brain is not what makes it so incredible. The Sperm Whale has a brain roughly 6 times the size of a Human brain, but they can’t even tie their own shoelaces.
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