It’s been said that there are more neurons in the brain than stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. This old gem isn’t true at all, but it sounds great: Our propensity to remember and repeat hyperbolic phrases with no empirical evidence is just one of many ways that the human brain can be fooled or manipulated in order to achieve some sort of positive or negative effect.
A human brain contains about 86 billion neurons, which is a whole lot. But it’s much less than the hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way. The complexity of the neural networks that form our consciousness is a frontier that has yet to be fully discovered. As a result, scientists and researchers are constantly discovering an incredible array of different tendencies built into human consciousness. Our brain has proven to be malleable and even easily manipulated, and certain practices and tricks can actually result in surprising benefits and other interesting outcomes. The following are just ten extraordinary ways that scientists have proven we can manipulate our own psychological experiences.
10. Experience Drug-Free Hallucinations
The Ganzfeld Effect is a neurological phenomenon that occurs when the senses are bombarded with a consistent source of unchanging stimulation. One way to achieve this result is to expose the eyes and ears to a source of white light and white noise that drowns out any other form of visual and auditory stimulation.
After about 30 minutes, the brain decides to seek something different than the white light or noise, even if the neurons have to fake it through hallucination. Ganzfeld is a term of German origin, meaning “complete field”, referring to the complete submersion of the senses. The opposite way of achieving similar types of hallucination is through complete sensory deprivation, rather than overstimulation.
9. The Uberman Sleep Schedule
Scientists haven’t figured out exactly why humans sleep, other than the fact that the brain gets sleepy. Typically speaking, people tend to require about seven or eight hours of decent, uninterrupted sleep to enjoy the full benefits of the rest that results from deep, REM sleep patterns.
The uberman sleep schedule is a brain hack that reduces the amount of time that a person needs to sleep down to two hours a day. While notoriously difficult to adapt to at first, those on the most popular type of uberman sleep schedule get by with a series of twenty minute naps spread equally throughout the day.
8. Dream Control
Lucid dreaming takes place when people are fully conscious and aware that they’re in the middle of a dream in progress. The most frequent cause of inadvertently realizing that you’re in a dream is witnessing something that’s completely out-of-the-ordinary or even impossible in the waking world.
Several techniques exist to initiate lucid dreaming. One method involves “reality testing”, in which a person carries a token while awake and checks to see if they have that token in their dream, similar to the characters in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. When you become proficient at lucid dreaming, you increase the chance of controlling your dreams.
7. Chewing Increases Mental Abilities
A study conducted by the psychology department at the St. Lawrence University compared the mental performance of gum chewers against other students that didn’t chew gum. The experiment found that those who chew gum while tackling difficult puzzles and memorization tasks did better than those who did not.
Although no one knows why this brain hack works, it appears that this effect only increases performance for about 20 minutes, suggesting that it’s better to hold off on chewing until the boost is needed the most. Another study, this one from Cardiff University, found that attentiveness, mood and even reflexes are improved by chewing.
6. Healing Pain with Binoculars
When it comes to pain, it appears that size does matter after all. A study from Oxford University attempted to correlate visual cues with the way the mind experiences pain. The experiment featured participants looking at a portion of their body that causes chronic pain through different types of binoculars.
One group looked at their injury through lenses that doubled the size of their limb while the other group looked through binoculars that reduced the apparent size of the injured body part. The group who magnified the appearance of their limb experienced more pain and even experienced greater swelling compared to those who looked at a smaller image of their injury.
5. Singing Prevents Anxiety During Important Moments
Psychology professor and author Sian Beilock used her own experiences as a top lacrosse player with the University of California in San Diego to devise ways to help people succeed during crucial, high-pressure situations with little or no room for error.
During high school, she developed her own method of decreasing the anxiety that often results in performance failure during important games: singing. She used her experiences during her university studies to develop a variety of methods to prevent choking, specifically pointing to singing as a way of engaging the same parts of the brain that produce unwanted impulses that reduce performance.
4. Sleep to Learn
Although it’s always best to allow for plenty of time to prepare for an exam or a public performance, one of the best ways to increase memory recall and overall performance is to finish a review of the material about 24 hours before the big event, then proceed to get a solid night of sleep.
During the deep slumber, the brain spends hours processing all the information drilled into the mind, placing all the necessary data where it’s best accessed. The human brain recalls memory in a quicker and more accurate manner when the memory formed is new or recently remembered, so when someone does a review 24 hours before an exam, the brain is primed for success.
3. The Placebo Effect
A wide variety of conditions, including pain, menopause symptoms, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disorders and even depression can be significantly helped by applying a placebo therapy.
A placebo is fake medicine provided to a patient by a trusted medical authority who promises a beneficial outcome as long as the patient takes the cure. Despite containing no actual medicine, patients often experience the same benefits promised by the false cure.
Researchers aren’t exactly sure how the placebo effect works, other than speculation that the body’s chemistry becomes altered in order to create the outcome expected by the brain, proving that mind over matter, matters.
2. The Amazing Effects of Music
Music has a mysterious connection to the human mind and soul, producing an incredible array of beneficial effects for a variety of issues. The main neurochemical effect that music has on the brain is a burst of dopamine, especially when listening to a favorite song. In fact, the anticipation of a favorite part of a song increases the levels of dopamine in the brain.
As a result, music helps deal with chronic pain and inflammation issues such as arthritis and nerve damage. Music helps improve sleeping patterns and provides effective treatment for cognitive diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease, depression and anxiety.
1. Memory Implantation
Implanting memories into the human brain can be surprisingly easy and works well on many people. In a study at the University of California, researchers gathered real memories from the families of participants before adding a fake memory on the list.
In all the cases, the false memory that was added to the list was of an incident of getting lost in a mall as a child. Simply by mentioning this to participants, 20% claimed to have remembered the story right down to specific details, suggesting that the memory was recently created to agree with the researcher.
The creation of false memory is boosted by false visual evidence of memory and cognitive suggestion through different ways of stimulating the senses. This hack is a worrying one, as many are concerned that it could be exploited in high-pressure police interrogation situations.