"Smarter" people may just be better at filtering distractions
Katia Fonti/ShutterstockWith this thinking on distractions and the brain comes another theory of intelligence—that smart people's are just better at ignoring stuff that's distracting. A study from the University of Rochester found that people with higher IQs were better at detecting the movements of small objects on a screen, but worse at detecting movements of larger, background-like objects. This may be because in nature, large movements like the wind in the trees are irrelevant, but the harder-to-see animal about to pounce is more important. So in our info-laden modern world, the ability to better focus might give some people an edge. Check out these people with higher IQs than Einstein.
Memory isn't as fixed as we think
urbazon/ShutterstockAlthough some of us do have impressive powers of recall, memories are in fact, constantly in flux—and this has the potential to alter how we remember things. "Our brain is not a 'video cam' that takes in information and stores it in our memory center precisely as it happens; instead we process scenes, conversations, and outings through our filter of rich experiences, perspectives, and thinking biases," Dr. Chapman says. "This is why two people can witness the same event and come away with very different memories." Even studies of so-called "flashbulb" memories of major events, like the Challenger explosion or the events of September 11, 2001, show our recollections aren't always accurate. One good thing? We do tend to look back on our life through rose-colored lenses. "Our memories are altered and typically become more positive over time," Dr. Chapman says. Check out the daily habits of people with an amazing memory.
You can train your memory with mnemonics
A. and I. Kruk/ShutterstockThe brain can strengthen its powers of recollection through certain memory-boosting techniques. "If you want to remember something accurately, write it down as soon as possible," Dr. Chapman says. "Our brain is not inspired by memorizing information, but by doing something with it." Other mnemonic devices, or ways to "do something" in order to create a better memory, include repeating the information—when you meet someone, say their name out loud. Or, make up a phrase that rhymes: "Claire has red hair." For longer stretches of info, create an acronym (at the market, we need MELT—milk, eggs, lemons, and thyme). These tricks work by forming connections in the brain with already established knowledge, reshaping brain networks to better remember. Learn about another simple activity that boosts memory by 20 percent.
Video games may increase brain power
DisobeyArt/ShutterstockIf smartphones and the Internet can cause our brains to be overloaded, what about video games? Scientists are now discovering that video games may actually have benefits for the brain. A recent review of research found that gamers show improvements in the brain regions involved in attention. Evidence also exists that video games can increase the size and efficiency of the regions of the brain that control visuospatial skills. Researchers are even developing video games that can modify regions of the brain that control mood—there's one video game that treats depression. (Check out these other little-known health benefits of playing video games.) But be careful—video games can also be addictive, due to the structural changes they cause in the brain's reward system.
The brain is "awake" during sleep
Nikolaev Mikhail/ShutterstockAlthough it seems like sleep would be time for the brain to rest, there's actually a lot going on in your noggin when you're snoozing, which is one of the reasons sleep is important for the brain. "Even when we are sleeping, areas such as the frontal cortex that controls our higher-level thinking and awareness, and the somatosensory cortex that allows us to sense our surroundings, are active," Dr. Tarawneh says. Studies have shown that even in deep non-REM sleep, our brain is more active than previously thought. Find out why waking up in the middle of the night could mean your brain is in trouble.
Being in a coma isn't like being asleep
HearttoHeart/ShutterstockIn soap operas, people always wake refreshed from comas, like they've just had a great night's sleep—but according to research, this isn't the case. Comas are a prolonged state of unconsciousness, but nothing like sleep. "Brain wave EEG readings for someone in a coma are very different from those of someone sleeping," says sleep expert Richard Shane, PhD, creator of the Sleep Easily method. "During a coma, a person does not move, as people in a non-dreaming state do. A person in a coma is unresponsive to his or her environment and cannot be awakened by any stimulation, including pain." Because of the lack of brain activity in comas, those who awaken may have damage or need to rehabilitation to get their noggin working again. Find out more about what it's really like to be in a coma.
Amnesia doesn't cause you to forget who you are
HBRH/ShutterstockOK, so what about that other favorite movie trope of a character suddenly having amnesia and not knowing who they are? According to the Mayo Clinic, amnesia doesn't usually lead to a loss of self-identity. Instead, there are two kinds: retrograde (the inability to recall past events) and anterograde (the inability to learn new information). A study from the UK found that amnesiacs also may have problems imagining scenarios for the future, because these are often based on past experiences. Another misconception: Severe amnesia is not usually the result of a head injury—and it's certainly not cured by another one, like in the movies. Learn how to use your brain's "delete" button to forget new memories.
Sleep deprivation to the brain is the equivalent of being drunk
Dean Drobot/ShutterstockThe National Sleep Foundation recommends adults to get seven to nine hours of sleep, but many Americans are going without that much. The problem is, being sleep deprived can lead to mental function that's equal to being intoxicated. "In repeated studies, after 17 to 19 hours without sleep, cognitive functioning and response speed were equivalent or worse than someone with a blood alcohol content [BAC] of five percent," Dr. Shane says. "After 24 hours without sleep, performance indicators were equivalent to a BAC of 10 percent." All states have a legal limit of eight percent, with commercial drivers held to four percent. The National Institute of Medicine estimates drowsy driving is responsible for 20 percent of car crashes. And you don't need to be up for 24 hours straight for this effect—other research has shown that the cumulative effect of consistently getting six hours or fewer can lead to similar results. Check out these other 13 scary things that happen when you don't have enough sleep.
Dreams have meaning
marina shin/ShutterstockWhy we dream has been the source of speculation for centuries. Although we're not sure, many scientists now think dreams help us process emotions and events that happen during our waking hours. "The entire brain is active during dreams—the visual cortex, which creates images, and the limbic system, which deals with emotions, are especially active during dreams," Dr. Shane says. Brain activity during dreaming increases to the same level as when we are awake, he says, and can be stimulated by what you experienced during the day. "Dreams then make associations with other experiences you have had, helping you integrate what you learned during the day," Dr. Shane says. "Dreams can help you solve problems and increase your ability to cope with struggles and stress." In addition, the freedom of control in dreams allows them to be more creative than waking thoughts. Learn why dreaming could ward off dementia.
Sex on the brain is a good thing
limonstrik/ShutterstockAs if you needed another excuse to get it on, sex may actually help your brain think better as you age. Animal research has shown that sexual activity improved mental performance and the production of new cells in the area of the brain responsible for memory. A new study in humans found that older adults who were sexually active scored better on cognitive tests than those who weren't. Sex may also reduce anxiety and depression, and help you sleep, which benefits brain health as well. Find out why sex could make you smarter, too.