5 Ways Your Brain Is Messing With Your Head

We accept on a regular basis the premise that our minds are being screwed with. Advertisers, politicians, magicians; we accept that they know the tricks to pull the wool over our eyes. But as it turns out, the ways in which your head is being truly and royally messed with the most, are coming from inside.

Please be advised that your brain does not want you reading the following list, and may kill you to protect its secrets. These include...

#5. Change Blindness

What is it?

It's your inability to notice changes that happen right in front of you, even if they're hugely obvious... as long as you don't see the actual change take place.

Um, What?

Consider Alfonso Ribeiro.

Now, if suddenly that image of Carlton blinked and changed to a different image, you'd notice it. The change would draw your eye. But if you got up and left your computer, then came back and found the image had changed, odds are you almost certainly would not notice, even if you were only gone for seconds. Science has proven it.

In fact, if the entire text of this article--and the whole color and layout of this website--changed while you were gone, you probably wouldn't notice. We could switch it to a wallpaper of dicks. You might not believe it but, as you're about to see below, the experiments they've done on this get truly bizarre.

A scientist named George McConkie started working on this in the 70s. He'd introduce changes in words and text right on the page that someone was reading. By tracking the movement of their eyes, he was able to change the text right in front of their damned faces without people noticing.

Why Does the Brain Lie About it?

Change blindness is usually related to something called inattention blindness. If you tried to process everything in your visual spectrum you would go insane, so your mind picks and chooses what to focus on. If Carlton grows a mustache while your brain isn't paying attention, when you look back at Carlton, your brain tells you he's had the 'stache all along.

It's like your brain is sitting in class, staring out the window at a cloud that sort of looks like a boob. When you call on your brain it does the same thing you do when a teacher calls on you in those circumstances: Start bullshitting. It doesn't really know what Carlton looked like a second ago, but it's not going to tell you that. Since it has no visual memory of the image, it just tells you it's always looked the same. Even when that's a lie.

Where it Really Gets Weird...

What's truly amazing is just how often your brain isn't paying attention. Scientists decided to take the idea to a ridiculous extreme. They ran experiments where they'd have a guy manning the counter at an office serving students, while another guy was hidden below the counter. A student would walk up and request a form, and the guy would say sure and duck down behind the counter to get it.

But then second guy, the one who had been hiding, would pop up and say, "ah, here it is." This second guy would look completely different, and would be wearing completely different colored clothing, and most of the students would not freaking notice it was a different guy than the one they had been talking to five seconds ago.

Here is a video of such an experiment. Far creepier is the bit magician Derren Brown does where he'll approach a stranger on the street, ask for directions, and in mid-sentence have somebody walk past carrying a large object. While the object is disrupting the view for half a second, he'll swap out another guy who looks and sounds nothing like him--and the stranger will carry on the conversation with the second man as if nothing had happened.

This is probably what made the producers of Bewitched think they could just switch out Darrins on us.

#4. Saccadic Masking

What is it?

It's the 40 or so minutes per day that you're effectively blind.

Um, What?

Quick, look at the wall to your left. When you flicked your eyes over there, for just a moment, you were blind. And you didn't even know it.

Why Does the Brain Lie About it?

Ever watch a movie that gave you motion sickness, due to the camera whipping around too fast? This is what has some people puking during movies that use the "shaky handheld camera" gimmick (see: Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project). Your brain doesn't like those rapid, blurry changes in vision.

This is either Cloverfield or a picture of John Candy with a Motion Blur filter.

But eye movements are even faster than those shaky camcorders. Flick your eyes over to the wall again. Notice you didn't get that nauseating, blurred image of the room zooming past your eye? That's because of saccadic masking.

In order to bring you this completely awe-inspiring view of what we're guessing is your cubicle wall right now, your brain rapidly moves your eyes without asking, in the neighborhood of three to five times per second. That's in addition to the times you move your eyes consciously, to look at the clock or the wall just now. To prevent your world from looking like the jerky Cloverfield camcorder all day, your brain shuts down your optic nerve while your eye is in motion.

Where it Really Gets Weird...

The spooky part is the way your brain prevents you from noticing the blackness that occurs several times a second, every moment you use your eyes. Estimates vary somewhat, but it's likely that you're spending somewhere around 40 minutes a day with your eyes wide open, and totally blind.

Your brain.

Look at the wall one more time. If you make an effort, you can sometimes see a "flash" of darkness during a particularly long eye movement, one of those periods of blindness your brain insists isn't happening. But for the most part, your brain suppresses these flickers.

And here's where saccadic masking and change blindness team up to have rough sex with your mind. Remember, the first scientist to experiment with change blindness was making changes to the page while people were looking directly at it. He was able to do it by introducing the changes during saccadic movement. If a change occurs during that fraction of a second when the brain is dodging calls like the optic nerve was an ex-girlfriend, you tend not to notice it. Even when it happens right in front of your damned eyes.

#3. Proprioception

What is it?

It's your brain's map of your body, and it screws up on a regular basis.

Um, What?

Your sense of proprioception is your brain's ability to sense where your limbs are. Nothing strange about that, right? This is how you can put a sandwich in your mouth while your eyes are focused on the TV. Your brain knows where your hand is in relation to your face, thanks to proprioception.

Why Does the Brain Lie About it?

It may not be lying necessarily, just easily confused. You know this if you've ever taken a field sobriety test.

Your proprioception is like your underwear: it's pretty much the first thing to disappear when you're any kind of fucked up. Basically, the cops doing the roadside test are trying to see if your brain knows where your fingers are in relation to your nose.

Even though your brain carries around a detailed awareness of exactly where your body parts are at all times, when it's handed a contradictory stimulus, essentially it says, "Oh, well. Guess I've been wrong about the length of your nose all these years."

It's either that or your brain is a sadistic son-of-a-bitch that likes playing tricks on you.

Where it Really Gets Weird...

The best example we've found so far is "the Pinocchio illusion." Scientists have found they can have the subject touch the tip of their nose with their finger, and have their bicep or triceps electrically stimulated at the same time. Your brain "feels" your arm muscle extending, but also feels that you're maintaining contact with the tip of your nose, and leaps to the immediate, yet fully sober, conclusion that your nose has suddenly grown to be about three feet long.


Incidentally, we know exactly which illusion you're about to try to induce, figuring all it'll take is a girl, a dark room and the right equipment. Don't do it. It will lead to eventual disappointment.

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