I have a lot on my plate: 100 billion nerve cells
So you might want to take a moment before you blame me for not being fast enough, failing to get easy math right, or even forgetting your friend's birthday. It's not really my fault: Information travels through me between the rates of 0.5 meters per second and 120 meters per second. Even though I weigh about three pounds, I’m a fuel guzzler that uses 20% of your body’s energy. (Be sure to try these weird brain exercises that help you get smarter!)
Google is making me weak
A 2011 study from Columbia University found that you've been relying more on the Internet, less on me. That means I'm going to forget more over time. Study author Betsy Sparrow, PhD suggests we should focus on "greater understanding of ideas and ways of thinking," and less on memorization. Here are some ways to improve your memory.
Some of us crave junk food. Some of us don't.
In one study, subjects were shown the names of foods they liked, and the parts of me that got excited were the same parts activated in drug addicts. This may have to do with dopamine, the hormone linked to motivation and pleasure, say researchers. The thinking goes that those with fewer dopamine receptors may need more food to make me happy. (Did you know this one fruit could protect your brain from aging?)
There's a powerful link between music, nostalgia, and me
In a 2010 study, researchers found just listening to a meaningful song from childhood brought on a happiness triggered by the fond memories. (Don't miss these nostalgic photos that capture the magic of childhood.)
I can predict future events
Findings from a 2012 study reveal exciting new evidence that my front-most region, the frontopolar cortex, helps predict future events from past experiences. It's not exactly psychic-superpowers, but I am able to make short-term predictions and think strategically about the future by drawing conclusions from recent patterns. For instance, the study's participants could anticipate slot machine payoffs based on previous trends in the games. (Here are some things you should be doing to keep your brain sharp and healthy later in life.)
I get distracted easily when we go shopping
Two cool new studies: One looked at the MRIs of participants watching deceptive ads (think: late-night infomercials). When I was cloudy from stress, lack of sleep, or low awareness, I was most likely to urge you to buy. Another study on shoppers noticed I may subconsciously push you to more expensive products if attractive, potential mates are nearby, so we impress them. (Here are some signs you might have a shopping addiction.)
Sometimes, even I think you should trust your gut
Conscious thought doesn't always lead to the better choice: One study showed students to be happier when they used me for simple decisions, and used their "gut" for more complex ones. In another study, participants let my unconscious state do the grunt work, and they showed less buyer's remorse. So: When you think hard on a big decision (new job), don't get stuck on one of the factors (salary, long-term potential, location, et cetera) and instead, sleep on it. (Don't miss these genius brain boosters to try before work.)
Brain games might not do much for me. Seriously.
In a recent study, 11,430 volunteers aged 18 to 60 completed a series of online tasks for a minimum of 10 minutes a day, three times a week, for six weeks. Even though participants improved at the tasks, researchers believe that there wasn't a boost in general memory and learning abilities. Want to get sharp in your downtime? Listen to more music: Stanford University researchers found that it helps me better organize chaos, pay attention, make predictions, and update memory. After all, happy music triggers positive memories.
I get stimulated easily, and not by what you might expect
A 2011 study in Addiction Biology found that frequent tanning will fire off the same "reward" response for me as drug addiction (ie, I want to do it again and again). Ditto for binge eating, being popular on Facebook (!), or other obsessive activities. Find healthy ways to stimulate me: exercise, spending time with friends, treating yourself to a day of relaxation. (There are even scientific benefits of having friends!)
Ladies: I'm more moody with you. Sorry.
Physically, I'm about ten percent larger in men than women. It doesn’t make guys smarter, it just lets me control their different bodies. Neurologically, it’s more common for women to suffer from mood disorders—but men are more likely to have ADHD or language disabilities. (Here are some instant mood boosters you should try.)