Do you believe the moon landing was faked? Do you suspect the 9/11 attacks were a government cover up?
Turns out, if you’re an avid conspiracy theorist, you could be doing it for attention.
According to new research, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, some people like believing in conspiracy theories because of a need for uniqueness. In other words, they like to be different, and so take on beliefs that are out of the ordinary.
It’s similar to when people take up unusual hobbies that set them apart from others. That person on Reddit with a weird idea of what shape the Earth is could actually feel special or above average because they think they’ve figured something out that the majority of others haven’t.
Being in on the conspiracy theories may make people feel like they are part of a secret society that has all the answers.
To test this theory, a research team from Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany conducted a series of studies to see how the need for uniqueness could prompt people to believe conspiracies more.
Believing one conspiracy theory makes it more likely you’ll believe another.
In the first study, 238 people were assessed for their need for uniqueness, and their endorsement of 99 conspiracy theories. The results showed that believing one conspiracy theory makes it more likely you’ll believe another, and that there was a correlation between this endorsement and the need to not follow the crowd.
History has shown any cataclysmic event in the world has resulted in not just grief and shock among the masses but a host of conspiracy theories also.
From the assassination of former U.S. President John F Kennedy to the death of Princess Diana, a member of British royal family; from the world-changing collapse of the twin towers in New York to the baffling disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, people have never shied away from putting their own spin on the details of an event when the reasons from the authorities concerned have failed to satisfy them.
Some conspiracy theories have been simply outrageous, while others have offered a kernel of truth. But there’s no denying the fact that conspiracy theories strongly influence the outlook of a certain section of people. Now the question is why do people give in to these conspiracy theories?
A study published in the journal Social Psychology in July tries to answer this question by suggesting that the need to be special and unique drives the people to believe in conspiracy theories.
More than 1,000 people took part in the study titled “I know things they don’t know!” that was co-authored by Anthony Lantian, Dominique Muller, Cécile Nurra, and Karen M. Douglas of Grenoble Alps University. “An intriguing feature in the rhetoric of people who believe in conspiracy theories is that to justify their beliefs, they frequently refer to secret or difficult-to-get information they would have found,” Lantian was quoted as saying by psychology news website Psypost in a report published in August.
“This fascination for what is hidden, emerging from conspiracy narratives, led us to the concept of need for uniqueness,” he added.
The researchers found evidence to support three main tenets of their hypothesis:
By Clare Wilson via New Scientist
Beloved of spiritualists and bored teenagers on a dare, the Ouija board has long been a source of entertainment, mystery and sometimes downright spookiness. Now it could shine a light on the secrets of the unconscious mind.
The Ouija, also known as a talking board, is a wooden plaque marked with the words, “yes”, “no” and the letters of the alphabet. Typically a group of users place their hands on a movable pointer , or “planchette”, and ask questions out loud. Sometimes the planchette signals an answer, even when no one admits to moving it deliberately.
Believers think the answer comes through from the spirit world. In fact, all the evidence points to the real cause being the ideomotor effect, small muscle movements we generate unconsciously.
That’s why the Ouija board has attracted the attention of psychologists at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Growing evidence suggests the unconscious plays a role in cognitive functions we usually consider the preserve of the conscious mind.
Scientists have found that certain psychological predispositions can make people more or less prone to believe conspiracy theories. Now, new research has found another trait that could be linked to conspiracy theories.
The study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, suggests that conspiracy theories are associated with the desire to eliminate uncertainties. The study from researchers in Poland and the United Kingdom examined the role of cognitive closure, meaning the tendency to desire an answer for any particular question.
“Why do some people believe that the AIDS virus was created by the US government, that the British security services murdered Princess Diana or that Russians were involved in the Smolensk catastrophe of 2010 that killed the Polish president?” said Marta Marchlewska of the University of Warsaw, the study’s corresponding author. “There is no doubt that conspiracy theories give simple and structured answers to difficult questions. The aim of our research was to find out which psychological traits make people especially prone to adopt conspiratorial explanations and under what circumstances does it occur.”
“We found out that people who are especially motivated to reduce uncertainty by finding clear beliefs about reality and forming quick judgments on a given topic (those high in need for cognitive closure) adopt salient conspiratorial explanations for uncertain events that lack clear official explanations.”
Marchlewska and her colleagues conducted two separate experiments on a total of 700 Polish adults.
Do you have precognition? If you’ve ever thought you might, you’re not alone. We all have experiences, at least every once in a long while, where it seems we’ve anticipated something a little too precisely for it to be random chance. Sometimes we anticipate things that are so specific, and so far outside the normal events we expect, that it seems there can be no explanation other than precognitive psychic powers. Might there be some undiscovered energy or force that makes such a thing possible? Today we’re going to look at your precognitive experiences, and see if there might be some other explanation.
First, it’s important to lay the groundwork for the conventional science-based explanation for apparent episodes of precognition. It comes from the law of large numbers. If we assume that something (anything) happens about once a second in your waking life, then statistically, you’re going to have a one-in-million experience about every month. Let’s take a look at the classic case as one example:
Hi Brian. At first, thank you for giving me the reasons and rationalities behind urban myths and superstition. I live in New Zealand and in 2015, my husband was on a business trip to Tokyo. On a Friday night, I dreamed about his funeral, no idea why, because he was a very healthy and happy man. The Saturday evening, my son called me that the police had come to tell him that they had found his father slumped next to his desk in his Tokyo hotel room. He had died the Friday night of a sudden heart attack. Due to the time difference between New Zealand and Japan, I must have had this dream at the same moment he died. I am not superstitious, but I hope you can give a reasonable explanation for my experience. Thank you, and keep up the good work.
Obviously this is an incomprehensible personal tragedy. Of course this listener has all our sympathies, but today we’re looking only at the statistical probability of what happened. I call this the classic case because it’s one of the most commonly reported cases that come to be described as psychic precognition: You dream of someone and then find out they died at that same time. But can it happen without psychic powers? Let’s calculate the probability of that.
This is an awesome documentary. Every minute is worth watching. – MIB
My favorite exchange between the interviewer (Matt Shea) and one of the (alleged) targeted individuals (Shane) begins at 26:33 into the video:
Targeted Individual: Everybody gets a stroke of bad luck every now and then, but to have it continual, to have it continuous … something is going on here.
Matt Shea: Of course there are some people who are just really, really, really unlucky.
Targeted Individual: Would you say somebody defecating in my bed is unlucky?
Matt Shea: Why would … ?
Targeted Individual: Why would I shit in my own bed? Seriously.
Matt Shea: Why would the government shit in your bed?
Targeted Individual: Or, why would the free masons shit in my bed?
Matt Shea: Why would ANYONE shit in your bed?
Targeted Individual: Exactly. Why?
Also see: I’m Being Cyber Stalked, Wiretapped and Followed (iLLuMiNuTTi.com)
A critical analysis of archeology leads to rejection of astrology, conspiracies, etc.
The world as a whole has become increasingly reliant on science to provide its technology and inform its policy. But rampant conspiracy theories, fake news, and pseudoscience like homeopathy show that the world could use a bit more of the organized skepticism that provides the foundation of science. For that reason, it has often been suggested that an expanded science education program would help cut down on the acceptance of nonsense.
But a study done with undergrads at North Carolina State University suggests that a class on scientific research methods doesn’t do much good. Instead, a class dedicated to critical analysis of nonsense in archeology was far more effective at getting students to reject a variety of pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. And it worked even better when the students got their own debunking project.
The study, done by Anne Collins McLaughlin and Alicia McGill, lumps together things like belief in astrology, conspiracy theories, and ancient aliens, calling them “epistemically unwarranted.” Surveys show they’re widely popular; nearly half the US population thinks astrology is either somewhat or very scientific, and the number has gone up over time.
You might think that education, especially in the sciences, could help reverse this trend, but McLaughlin and McGill have some depressing news for you. Rejection of epistemically unwarranted ideas doesn’t correlate with scientific knowledge, and college students tend to have as much trouble coming to grips with reality as anyone else.
Some claim that certain common false memories are evidence for alternate realities.
Ever have one of those moments where you watch an old movie or pick up an old book, and hear a quote or see something that stands in stark contrast to what you thought you remembered? We all have. But what about a special case, where the exact same broken memory is shared by a large number of people? At first glance, it seems like this must be something different. It’s no surprise that any of us individually might remember something wrong; but for a whole group to share an identical false memory seems to suggest that there might be a new phenomenon at work. It’s been called the Mandela Effect.
The Mandela Effect is named for one of its most famous examples, that of Nelson Mandela, whose funeral some people remembered after he supposedly died in prison. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison in South Africa, but he survived it and was released in 1990. He was President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and some of those same people said “Wait, he died in prison, I watched the funeral on TV.” He didn’t actually die until 2013; and every time his name came up, these same people said “Wait a minute, I thought he was dead.”
Now, this group who erroneously remembered that Mandela had died did not include me, but I’m sure some people thought he had. One who did was psychic ghost hunter Fiona Broome, who writes that she discovered that some people she knew also thought that Mandela had died. Seeking an explanation for what she described as an “emerging phenomenon”, she turned not to social science, but to some nebulous concept of alternate realities. In her own words:
The “Mandela Effect” is what happens when someone has a clear memory of something that never happened in this reality. Many of us — mostly total strangers — remember the exact same events with the exact same details. However, our memories are different from what’s in history books, newspaper archives, and so on. This isn’t a conspiracy, and we’re not talking about “false memories.” Many of us speculate that parallel realities exist, and we’ve been “sliding” between them without realizing it. (Others favor the idea that we’re each enjoying holodeck experiences, possibly with some programming glitches. In my opinion, these aren’t mutually exclusive.)
Is a lot of people remembering something wrong evidence for alternate realities? Not really.
From the video description:
Transcendent experiences that were once attributed to gods, angels, muses, or even possession, are now being demystified by neuroscience. Jamie Wheal, Director of Programs at the Flow Genome Project, explains that each culture has unique rituals and narratives when it comes to non-ordinary experiences of consciousness or ‘altered states’, whether that’s mediation, flow state, psychedelic experiences, or others. A farmer in India, a peasant in Mexico, and a coder in Silicon Valley will all have vastly different ways of approaching altered states, and will give vastly different descriptions once they come out the other side – perhaps they saw a vision of Ganesh the elephant God, received a message from the Virgin of Guadalupe, or produced a brilliant line of code while in a Matrix-like binary blur. However, those experiences are more alike than we think. Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler devised a functional framework so they could compare non-ordinary experiences across cultures. Here, Wheal explains that they identified four common elements of altered states of consciousness, which they coined as STER: selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness and richness. Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler’s book is Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work (goo.gl/m3Quy0).
Pointing out logical inconsistencies in conspiracy theories can be an effective method of discrediting them, according to new research published in Frontiers in Psychology.
The researchers had 813 Hungarian adults listen to a speech outlining a made-up conspiracy that purported to explain how hidden Jewish groups and international financial powers were secretly shaping the fate of Hungary. The speech emphasized that “nothing happens by chance, nothing is what it seems, everything is interconnected with everything, and the world is divided into good and evil.”
The participants then listened to another speech which either: pointed out the logical flaws of the conspiracy theory, mocked the ridiculousness and irrationality of those who believed the conspiracy theory, or called attention to the dangers of scapegoating while attempting to increase empathy for Jews. A fourth group of participants, who were used as a control, listened to a weather forecast.
The researchers found that the rationality speech and the ridiculing speech — but not the empathetic speech — were effective in reducing belief in the conspiracy theory.
PsyPost interviewed Peter Kreko, a visiting professor at Indiana University, assistant professor at Eötvös Loránt University of Sciences and senior associate to Political Capital Institute. Read his explanation of the research below:
Pop culture tells us that some people have photographic memories. What’s the real story?
Remember when you were a kid and there was always someone in your class who claimed to have a photographic memory? If you believed it, as many children tend to do, you were probably both impressed and jealous. Then by the time you got older, you’d heard of people with savantism, and champions in memory contests, and people who could remember every day of their lives; and you probably wished that you too could have a photographic or eidetic memory. Well how would you feel if I told you that there might not be any such thing as those abilities?
That’s not to say that nobody has extraordinary or unusual memory prowess. Some do, and we’ll talk about those; but what we want to focus on today is the idea that some people have the pop-culture version of a “photographic memory” that we’ve all heard about, which sounds a bit like a superpower. They can, at will, call to mind the page of a book they’ve read, a license plate they saw, a long string of numbers, what have you; and simply read it off that image in their mind’s eye as if they’re seeing it live. What makes this such a great thing is that it doesn’t seem to come with any cost. They are not otherwise developmentally disabled, and haven’t had to trade other cognitive or behavioral functioning. This is the version of “photographic memory” that so many of us grew up believing in: the superpower version.
Why can we find geometric shapes in the night sky? How can we know that at least two people in London have exactly the same number of hairs on their head? And why can patterns be found in just about any text — even Vanilla Ice lyrics? PatrickJMT describes the Ramsey theory, which states that given enough elements in a set or structure, some interesting pattern among them is guaranteed to emerge.
Source: BPS Research Digest
A large proportion of the public – over a quarter according to a Gallup survey in the US – believe that humans have psychic abilities such as telepathy and clairvoyance, even though mainstream science says there is no evidence that these powers exist. It might be tempting for sceptics to put this down to a lack of general intelligence or education on the part of the believers, but in fact past research has failed to support this interpretation.
Now a paper in Memory and Cognition has looked for differences between believers and sceptics in specific mental abilities, rather than in overall intelligence or education. Across three studies – this was one of the most comprehensive investigations of its kind – the researchers at the University of Chicago found that believers in psychic powers had memory abilities equal to the sceptics, but they underperformed on tests of their analytical thinking skills.
Stephen Gray and David Gallo surveyed the psychic beliefs, “need for cognition” (how much people enjoy mental effort) and life satisfaction of over two thousand people online. For example, regarding psychic beliefs, one survey item asked participants whether they agreed or disagreed that “it is possible to gain information about the future before it happens, in ways that do not depend on rational prediction or normal sensory channels”. The strongest psychic believers and sceptics matched for years in education or academic performance (around 50 people in each group, in each of the three studies; aged 18 to 35) were then invited to complete a range of tests of their memory and analytical skills, either online or in person at the psych lab.
Individuals who hold strong beliefs in conspiracies often also score high in narcissism and low in self-esteem, according to 2015 research.
The series of studies, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, examined individuals to determine whether self-evaluation plays a role in predicting conspiracy beliefs.
“Previous research linked the endorsement of conspiracy theories to low self-esteem,” said Aleksandra Cichocka, principal investigator and corresponding author of the study.
“We propose that conspiracy theories should rather be appealing to individuals with exaggerated feelings of self-love, such as narcissists, due to their paranoid tendencies,” she continued.
In the first study, 202 participants completed a conspiracy beliefs questionnaire, a self-esteem scale, and an individual narcissism questionnaire. In the conspiracy beliefs questionnaire, participants rated the extent to which they agree with such statements as “A small, secret group of people is responsible for making all major world decisions, such as going to war” and “The American government permits or perpetrates acts of terrorism on its own soil, disguising its involvement.”
Scientists found that among participants, high individual narcissism and low self-esteem significantly predicted conspiracy beliefs.
In the second study, scientists sought to rule out the possibility that collective narcissism contributed to the results of the previous study.
“Because conspiracy theories often refer to malevolent actions of groups, we wanted to distinguish whether it is a narcissistic image of the self or the group that predicts the endorsement of conspiracy theories,” said Cichocka.
“For example . . .
While humanity has yet to generate any universally-accepted proof of ghosts or hauntings, millions of people around the world report seeing apparitions or experiencing ghostly encounters every year (and sometimes these events cluster around specific areas). Why? Is there any possible explanation for the purported appearance of ghosts?
I love anything having to do with brain functions. Enjoy 🙂
Michael Shermer says the human tendency to believe strange things — from alien abductions to dowsing rods — boils down to two of the brain’s most basic, hard-wired survival skills.
What happens in the brain when a person has an out-of-body experience? A team of scientists may now have an answer.
In a new study, researchers using a brain scanner and some fancy camera work gave study participants the illusion that their bodies were located in a part of a room other than where they really were. Then, the researchers examined the participants’ brain activity, to find out which brain regions were involved in the participants’ perceptions about where their body was.
The findings showed that the conscious experience of where one’s body is located arises from activity in brain areas involved in feelings of body ownership, as well as regions that contain cells known to be involved in spatial orientation, the researchers said. Earlier work done in animals had showed these cells, dubbed “GPS cells,” have a key role in navigation and memory.
The feeling of owning a body “is a very basic experience that most of us take for granted in everyday life,” said Dr. Arvid Guterstam, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, and co-author of the study published today (April 30) in the journal Current Biology. But Guterstam and his colleagues wanted to understand the brain mechanisms that underlie this everyday experience.
Rubber hands and virtual bodies
In previous experiments, the researchers had explored the feeling of being out of one’s body. For example, the researchers developed the so-called “rubber hand illusion,” in which a person wearing video goggles sees a rubber hand being stroked, while a researcher strokes the participant’s own hand (which is out of sight), producing the feeling that the rubber hand is the participant’s own. The researchers have used a similar technique to give people the feeling of having a manikin’s body, or even an invisible body, as they described in a report published last week in the journal Scientific Reports.
In the new study, Guterstam and his colleagues . . .
By J. Francis Wolfe via Listverse
There is very good reason for all of humanity to have a healthy curiosity relating to near-death experiences. Death is the one experience we are all guaranteed to ultimately share. The field of science has therefore made numerous attempts to explain the near-death phenomena that so many people have independently described.
10 • The Temporoparietal Junction May Be Responsible For Out-Of-Body Experiences
Among the more common elements of near-death experiences is the distinct feeling of an individual having left their worldly body. Those who have had an “out-of-body” experience often report floating above themselves while being able to see their body and the people surrounding them. There have even been a few reports in which those who have had an out-of-body experience can identify objects and events occurring during times in which they were considered clinically dead, but there have also been studies demonstrating that this all could be due to damage in the temporoparietal junction of the brain.
The temporoparietal junction is responsible for assembling the data collected by the body’s senses and organs to form the perception of an individual’s body. When this part of the brain is damaged, it is possible that this results in the “out-of-body” experience that so many people have reported.
Though the experience may appear to be incredibly vivid and real, scientific studies have been able to reproduce this phenomenon without bringing the subject close to death, simply by electrically stimulating the temporoparietal junction of the brain.
9 • Excess Carbon Dioxide May Create The Tunnel And White Light
Nearly every individual who has had a near-death experience discusses the existence of a bright, white light and a tunnel that seems to lead to the afterlife. The white light seems to take on an otherworldly quality and is often accompanied by an overwhelming sense of peacefulness and welcoming.
A 2010 study of patients who had heart attacks revealed that there may be a correlation between this type of near-death experience and the level of CO2 in the blood. Out of the 52 cardiac patients studied, 11 reported a near-death experience. The levels of CO2 in the blood of those 11 patients were significantly higher than the patients who did not report having a near-death experience.
The feeling among researchers is that the excess CO2 in the bloodstream can have a significant effect on vision, which leads to patients seeing the tunnel and the bright light.
8 • Lack Of Oxygen To The Brain Causes Hallucinations
Many near-death experiences include the presence of long-dead friends and relatives appearing and perhaps even guiding the individual as they pass from the world of the living to the afterlife. Memories from every part of life are recalled in rapid succession, and there is an overwhelming sense of comfort, yet it appears that scientific research has provided an explanation for this phenomenon as well.
While excess CO2 has an effect on vision during a near-death experience, a lack of oxygen to the brain also plays a contributing role. It is well known that oxygen deprivation can lead to hallucinations and may even contribute to the feeling of euphoria that is often reported. While the sample size available to researchers is limited, studies have indicated that individuals who reported a near-death experience during cardiac arrest also had lower levels of oxygen.
Researchers believe that oxygen deprivation could well result in people “seeing their lives flash before their eyes” or being transported to a place where they are surrounded by friends and relatives who have long since passed on. This remains just a theory, however, as the other available research seems to indicate that multiple factors contribute to the near-death experience, which include the aforementioned CO2 levels as well. It makes sense in this regard that near-death experiences are commonly reported by those resuscitated following a heart attack, as a heart attack occurs when blood is blocked from reaching the brain.
When I was an intern doing a rotation in the emergency department, on one particularly busy shift a nurse commented (to no one in particular) that it must be a full moon. I habitually look at the moon and generally know what phase it is in (right now it is a waxing gibbous, almost full), and so I knew at the time that in fact there was a crescent moon in the sky. I informed her of this. She gave a disappointed look and then went on with her work without any apparent further thought on the matter.
The episode struck me at the time. It seemed to me that I just witnessed a clear example of confirmation bias – what if it had been near a full moon? That would have confirmed her prior belief in a lunar effect, while this negative correlation was brushed aside and likely did not have any negative effect on her belief. (Although, my interpretation and memory of this event can itself be an example of confirmation bias regarding confirmation bias.)
Belief in the so-called lunar effect, that the phases of the moon exert an influence on human behavior with the most common element being a full-moon inducing extreme behavior, is very common. In my experience it is one of the most common pseudoscientific beliefs I encounter in the general public. One survey indicates that 43% of adults believe in the lunar effect, especially mental health professionals, including nurses.
When someone expresses such a belief to me I often use it as an opening to discuss skeptical principles. While belief in the lunar effect is widespread, it is usually not part of any emotionally held religious or ideological belief. It is therefore an excellent teaching opportunity. One question I like to ask is, “how do you think that works?” The most common answer I receive is probably the least plausible – that the tidal effects of the moon influence the brain because the brain is sitting in water (spinal fluid).
The tidal effect answer is incredibly implausible for a number of reasons.
We’ve all heard about the supposed relationship between confidence and knowledge – but is it true? Two researchers think they’ve found the answer.
Here’s What’s Happening
by Bahar Gholipour via LiveScience
It was an ordinary night, but Salma, a 20-year-old student at The American University in Cairo, had a particularly frightening experience. She woke up, unable to move a muscle, and felt as though there were an intruder in her bedroom. She saw what appeared to be a fanged, bloody creature that looked like “something out of a horror movie,” standing beside her bed.
She later explained her experience to researchers who were conducting a survey about sleep paralysis, a common but somewhat unexplained phenomenon in which a person awakens from sleep but feels unable to move. Up to 40 percent of people report experiencing sleep paralysis at some point in their lives, and a few, like Salma, hallucinate shadowy intruders hovering over them.
“Sleep paralysis can be a very frightening experience for some people, and a clear understanding of what actually causes it would have great implications for people who suffer from it,” said Baland Jalal, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego.
Researchers say that sleep paralysis happens when a person awakens during a stage of sleep known as rapid eye movement (REM). People in this stage of sleep are usually dreaming, but their muscles are nearly paralyzed, which might be an evolutionary adaptation that keeps people from acting out their dreams.
It is harder to explain why a subset of people who experience sleep paralysis feel a menacing figure in their room or pressing on their chests.
One possible explanation could be that the hallucination is the brain’s way of . . .
Also See: Senses and Non-Sense: 7 Odd Hallucinations (livescience)
We are a story our brain tells itself. And our brains are habitual liars.
Take a moment to think of a cherished childhood memory. Try to recall it in detail. Think of where you were, who you were with, the sights, the smells, the tastes. Recall the sounds, like the wind in the trees, and how you felt. Were you happy? Anxious? Laughing? Crying?
We would all like to think that our memory is like a camera that records a scene, tucks it away in a corner of our brain, and retrieves it for playback when we want to relive that birthday ice cream or feel a long lost summer breeze on our cheeks. In a large sense we are what we remember, so memories are an integral part of who we are.
Unfortunately memory isn’t even remotely like a record/playback device. As neurologist and renowned skeptic Dr. Steven Novella puts it,
When someone looks at me and earnestly says, “I know what I saw,” I am fond of replying, “No you don’t.” You have a distorted and constructed memory of a distorted and constructed perception, both of which are subservient to whatever narrative your brain is operating under.
As I like to say, we are a story our brain tells itself, and our brains are motivated, skilled, pathological liars.
Lets take a look at memory, get a rough idea of how it works, and learn when and why we need to be cautious about trusting it. Functionally, the three parts of memory are encoding, storage, and retrieval.
As Dr. Novella points out, the problems begin with encoding, even before a memory has been stored. Our brain is constantly filtering information, and constructing its own reality. We are surrounded by detail. Take a moment right now to be aware of every distant sound around you, of all the leaves on the trees, fibers in the carpet, your breathing, and the sensations on your skin — all of it. Imagine dealing with all of that all of the time! Our brains evolved to construct a narrative of what’s going on, lending attention to what matters most. That thing over there that might be a predator is a more pressing matter than the sensation of every individual blade of grass you’re standing on. But just as things get lost, distorted, or added when your favorite book becomes a movie, the running story your brain puts together isn’t a faithful rendition. In fact, sometimes the circuitry in your brain that distinguishes what’s currently happening from a memory gets confused. This is the most likely explanation for déja vu. It’s a glitch in your own brain’s matrix.
And the first thing your brain does with most information is forget it.
We’ve all seen the ads, banners, commercials and books hyping the benefits of “brain training,” offering games and puzzles that promise to keep your brain in tip-top shape as you age. Diseases such as dementia are terrifying, and millions of people do their best to stave it off though online games, crossword puzzles and so on.
As a recent Scientific American column noted, “cognitive training — better known as ‘brain training’ — is one of the hottest new trends in self improvement. Lumosity, which offers web-based tasks designed to improve cognitive abilities such as memory and attention, boasts 50 million subscribers and advertises on National Public Radio. Cogmed claims to be ‘a computer-based solution for attention problems caused by poor working memory,’ and BrainHQ will help you ‘make the most of your unique brain.’” It all sounds very impressive and scientific.
While it’s important to stay both mentally and physically active in our later years, there’s little evidence that most of the commercially-sold brain enhancement methods or pills do any good. In fact the scientific community pours cold water on these fanciful myths.
In late October the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development gathered many of the world’s leading cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists to examine these brain games and programs. It then issued a statement that read in part: