The brain is a lot more than just the home of your thoughts and feelings. It controls virtually everything your body does, and like any other organ, the right conditions make it thrive, while the wrong ones can make it go haywire. No one gets a user's manual for their brain, but knowing how and why your brain does the things it does can help you protect the seat of consciousness.
Your Brain is Constantly Changing
Your brain's anatomy isn't permanently set in stone. Instead, it adapts to your experiences. And while this is great when you're trying to learn Mandarin, it's not such a benefit when you're stressed to the breaking point. Several studies have shown that stress can shrink the brain; in one, for example, baby monkeys raised in stressful conditions had smaller brains than those raised in nurturing, enriched environments.
Stress isn't the only thing that alters your brain, though. Meditation weakens neural connections associated with pain and stress, reducing the degree to which you experience these conditions. Similarly, exercise can help your brain reorganize itself, boosting cognitive function. A few laps around the block may even reduce your risk of mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.
You're More Creative When You're Tired
If you have your greatest ideas as you're drifting off to sleep, you're not alone. When you're exhausted, it's harder for your brain to filter out irrelevant stimuli such as memories of the past and background noise. But this irrelevant stimuli is often the foundation of creative thinking, so a tired brain can be a more creative brain.
After you have your creative burst, though, give your brain a rest. Regular naps give your brain much-needed rest, improving memory and cognition. Interestingly, the right side of the brain – the non-dominant side in most people – is more active during sleep, so it may be that napping gives your right brain a chance to process information, boosting your brain power.
You Really Can't Multitask
No matter how hard you try, your brain will never be good at multitasking. When you try to multitask, your brain compensates by dividing its attention, causing your error rate to go up 50%. But you can take advantage of this fact. If you've ever felt like a luxurious vacation sped by too quickly, you should know that you can change your brain's perception of time by flooding it with information. Multitasking and staying busy can help you feel like you're basking in the glory of a blissful moment for just a little bit longer.
Vision Is Your Brain's Favorite Sense
If you've ever wondered why you're more likely to notice a color than a sound, the reason is simple: your brain prioritizes visual input over information from the other senses. Your brain dedicates more power to vision than to your other senses, which means you'll perpetually be distracted by visual information.
Introverts and Extroverts Have Different Brains
It might seem like people who prefer staying at home and those who want to spend all night partying are fundamentally different. And at the brain level, they are. The reward pathways in an extrovert's brain are shorter, making it easier for them to feel a quick payoff to rapid socialization. Introverts, by contrast, need to move more slowly to get the rush of dopamine that leads to feelings of pleasure.
We Like People Who Make Mistakes
Cognitive biases are brain biases that cause us to process information in a way that is not always accurate. One such bias is called the Pratfall Effect, and causes us to perceive people who make mistakes as more likable and more approachable than those who are endlessly, frustratingly perfect.