Picture, in your mind, an elderly person who is desperately struggling to remember a name or event. He's got his hand on his chin, he's muttering to himself ("Was that Steve? No, Steve was in jail that year. Maybe Carl?"). Now let us ask you: Where is he looking?
Either at the floor or the ceiling -- almost as if he expects to find the answer written there. He may also just stare off into space -- anywhere, as long as he's not looking at you. Why?
Psychologists at the University of Scotland got curious enough to whip out their researchin' equipment and set up an experiment to find out what the score is.
It's faces. Your memory is ruined by other people's stupid, stupid faces.
The researchers figured this out by recruiting a bunch of young students at a nearby elementary school and tasking them with a bunch of memory-related tasks. Some of the kids were told they could look anywhere they wanted, including at their teacher, and the rest were instructed to look at a blank piece of paper on the floor.
While wearing ridiculous outfits and being told that the Easter Bunny isn't real.
The kids who looked at the blank sheet did almost 20 percent better than the ones who were allowed to look at their teacher. The reason appears to be that, as social animals, human faces are mentally captivating to us, and thus suck up quite a lot of our concentration. If you want to devote more mental horsepower to solving a problem, you need to look away.
Despite the fact that most people are not actively aware of this problem, our brains are usually able to figure it out as we get older. That is why the older you get, the more you start to instinctively look away from people when you're thinking and the more the "stare muttering at the ceiling while fiddling with your white beard" habit sets in.
"Now where did I put those extremely short, ridiculous pants ag-- Oh, I'm wearing them."
Here's something you've probably never wondered: Why do people talk with their hands? Almost everyone gestures when they're talking -- when they're counting down something, they hold up a hand and point to a finger to tick off each point. During an argument, most people can't illustrate their point without almost accidentally karate chopping you in the throat. And Hitler would have been forced to quit politics and try art school again if he hadn't been allowed to use violent hand gestures to swat home each point in his speeches.
Via Wikimedia Commons
He used to make gestures with his mustache, but a particularly violent speech made the ends shoot off.
The reason for this is that the learning/remembering parts of your brain and the "move your hands" part work together. And yes, this means that if you come up with a little preschool hand dance to help you remember a theorem, it will totally work on exam day.
Except for Trevor. That kid is a colossal fuckup.
A University of Rochester psychologist proved this by teaching a bunch of kids to solve math problems using this method. Some were told to talk the problems out as they solved them, others were told to gesture and the last bunch was told to do both. Sure, all were able to solve the problems after a while ... but when the kids were tested again a few weeks later, the group that was only allowed to talk the problems out retained a measly 33 percent of what they'd learned. The kids who just gestured? They retained 80 percent of the info, while the kids who were allowed to gesture and talk came in at a whopping 92 percent.
And yes, another experiment showed that the system is totally applicable to adults as well. Wait, is that why rappers do that thing with their hands?
Pull guns on other rappers?
Somebody test this.
For more ways to fuck with your brain, check out 5 Ways To Hack Your Brain Into Awesomeness and 5 Bizarre Brain Hacks That Make You Better at Sports.
And stop by LinkSTORM to discover how to hack someone else's brain into making you tacos.
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