Tell people that their diets or habits are making them fat or out of shape and they shrug -- we hear that crap every day. Tell them that their habits make them stupider and you're about to have a fight. We all know that our brain is a part of our body, but nobody likes to think of their intelligence as something that can get weak and flabby due to things that are out of our control.
Science says otherwise. Studies have shown ...
Have you ever been in a situation where you had to work with other people (like a meeting at work or forming groups in school) and suddenly felt like everyone involved was suddenly dumber than normal? It's not just that you hate everyone you're working with (and that they hate you, too) -- it's science.
The subtle science of hate.
It turns out that just being in meetings and group situations can drain your brain. In a study done by researchers who probably wished they were working alone, they found that when people are made to work together in small groups, their brains start freezing on them like an old computer running Windows Vista. There are a couple of reason for this; one, they have to focus more on interaction and behavior (think of all the brainpower that goes into not scratching your ass in front of others) instead of the task at hand, and two, because their status within the group is affecting their performance. Confidence matters, and it's hard to keep it up when you're working around assholes.
So, the more competitive the group is, the dumber some of its members will become. For the study, people with similar IQs were put into groups of five and ranked for their performance on mental tests. When the results were shown to the entire group, those who came out last started performing significantly worse for the next tests: They felt dumb compared to the rest, so they screwed up more than they would if they were working alone. The researchers believe that the same thing happens in more subtle ways in everyday life. Some people simply function better on their own.
"Can't we just handle this separately and talk about it later? I have work to do."
This gets even more complicated if your work group includes both men and women. Overall, the women in the study performed worse in a group setting than the men ... but you also have to take into account the fact that men in general turn into idiots just by being around women. No, seriously: Another study shows that men perform 14 percent more poorly on mental tasks when they think that a woman is watching them.
And no, the same thing didn't happen to women in the opposite scenario. We'll let you guess what made the difference there.
If you've ever traveled from one continent to another, you know what being jet-lagged is like: You may find yourself wide awake at 3 a.m. or falling asleep in the middle of the afternoon because you left your internal clock at another time zone. But, whatever, as long as you're getting your eight hours, you should be OK in a day or so. Hey, at least you got to see the world, so maybe you should stop whining and be thankful, damn it! Oh, except for the part where jet lag is making you an idiot.
"I poop in the potty like a big boy!"
Seriously, the more often you are jet-lagged, the more your brain suffers for it, and we're afraid it's permanent. In a study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, a group of hamsters were subjected to six-hour time shifts -- the equivalent of a New York-to-Paris time shift, or a hangover that lasts way too long. After a couple of weeks of this, they found that those hamsters had trouble learning stuff and couldn't pass tests that other hamsters had aced. But, you know, that was to be expected, since the hamsters were pretty tired and all -- the surprising part is that even a whole month after the hamsters had readjusted their schedules, they were still stupid compared to the others.
The act of constantly resetting their body clocks had actually changed the anatomy of their brains -- their hippocampus only had 50 percent of the neurons that other hamsters had, which affected their memory and their ability to learn. And this wasn't from lack of sleep: The jet-lagged hamsters got exactly as much pillow time as all the others; the only thing that changed was the hours in which they did it.
Look at that dumbass. Hey, dipshit, you're not going anywhere!
So how do we know that this isn't like some super specific problem that affects rodents only? Because the same symptoms have already been found in people with jobs that involve constant time shifts ... we just didn't know why this happened or how permanent the damage was. Flight attendants, for example, have been found to have severe memory loss ... but that small fact is usually overlooked by their increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
Remembering whether you asked for the fish or the steak isn't her biggest problem right now.
For reasons that only our ancestors understood, at some point it was decided that it was acceptable to hit a child for misbehaving, as long as you did it on his or her ass. And while some of you may insist that hundreds of spankings turned you into the responsible adult you are today, science says it might also have made you stupider in the process.
"There goes your shot at Harvard. And there goes Yale. You want to shoot for Eastern Illinois University?"
According to research done by the University of New Hampshire, the IQs of unspanked toddlers were on average five points higher than those of their bruised-assed peers ... even four years after the spanking took place. In fact, the more often a kid was spanked, the lower his IQ was. They also found that nations where spanking is still socially acceptable today had lower national IQs than nations that look down on it.
The irony: Spanked kids probably can't understand this.
Researchers say that kids who were spanked actually showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder -- the same condition war veterans get from watching people's heads get blown off (which is associated with low IQs).
Trauma in newborn babies has an even more negative effect, since their brains are just being formed. So what counts as trauma for kids of that age? Letting them cry.
"Nothing builds a strong, independent person like abandonment issues!"
Yes, because your parents were too sleepy to give you a new bottle, you're not the next Bill Gates. A study from the University of Pittsburgh has found that letting babies "cry it out" can lead to permanent brain damage. Rather than teaching them to be more independent, parents who don't comfort their babies when they start crying at night are actually doing the opposite: Infants tend to shut down when faced with distress, stop growing emotionally, stop trusting, and eventually stop feeling. And these are the people who will be picking your nursing home one day.