5 Things You Didn't Know Could Make You Smarter
We've depressed you already by revealing the things in your daily life that are making you dumber. The good news is that this works both ways -- there are lots of little, arbitrary things that can boost your brain power in ways you'd never expect. Like ...
What You're Wearing
Throughout this article, we'll be citing scientists, because all of us accept that scientists are smart guys. So how do you think they got the way they are? Genes? A bunch of so-called "education"? What if it turns out that the secret is just those lab coats they're always wearing? Surprise! Here's the weirdest thing you'll read today.
Researchers tested a group of participants on their brainpower with something called a Stroop test. The only difference between them was that half of them were dressed in a lab coat when they took the test. The results? Those wearing the lab coats only made half the mistakes of those who didn't wear the coats.
"I had an IQ of 45 before I put this on!"
Just to make sure this wasn't some insane fluke, they made another test, where participants had to find the differences between similar pictures. Some of the participants wore lab coats, but some of them were told they were actually wearing painters' coats. Again, they found that those who were wearing the lab coats scored significantly higher, even than those who were wearing the same thing but were told they were for painters. What the hell?
The lab coat subjects are on the left. Followed by "seeing a doctor's coat" and "wearing a painter's coat."
The researchers believe that wearing a lab coat simply makes us feel smarter, and as other psychologists have found, simply believing you're smarter actually makes you smarter. Sadly, this also implies that we all think painters are idiots.
But we know what you're almost certainly wondering -- how does this effect work with bikinis? Another study tested men and women by having them take an advanced math test, some while wearing sweaters, some in swimsuits. Afterward, they compared the scores from both outfits, and found that for women, wearing a bikini lowered their scores, but for men, it either stayed the same or increased.
Don't trust your male doctor unless he's wearing a lab coat and a thong.
Apparently, this is attributed to the idea that women are much more negatively affected by objectification than men, to the point that it screws up their attention and cognition. For men, they were actually proud of strutting their stuff, and so a tiny Borat-style mankini actually increased their abilities.
Now, before you run off and declare yourself ready to perform surgery just because you bought a set of surgical scrubs, stop and think about what this study really found. It's not about fashion's influence on your brain, it's about how flexible intelligence really is, based on your emotional state, your ability to focus and God knows how many other factors. After all, one reason intelligence is so hard to measure is that it's not like measuring somebody's height. Your intelligence changes based on what day it gets tested, the setting and mood you are in, how distracted you are and (as this study seems to imply) what you think is expected of you.
And, we bet if you think back, you'll realize that all of your best teachers in school knew that last one very well.
Being in a Terrible Mood
Everyone prefers to go to work and come home feeling happy. It's just not always achievable, and indeed, if you're the kind of person who enjoys your job that much, then you'll find that most people just want to cut you. But hold it right there, Smiles McHappyWorker -- the Negative Nancy in your office is head and shoulders over you intellectually.
"The singularity at the center of a black hole is neither infinite nor anchored
in existence, and does anyone else think it's too cold in here?"
Multiple studies have found this. In one, Australian researcher Joe Forgas found that "angst and sadness promote 'information-processing strategies best suited to dealing with more-demanding situations'." Forgas made participants watch short films about death and cancer, inducing a melancholy mood, and found that those subjected to the depressing short films made fewer arithmetic mistakes and had better judgment in general -- they were better at recalling past events and judging the accuracy of rumors, and became less likely to judge strangers.
Basically, the exact opposite of the Internet.
Then another study from the Columbia Business School found that the act of frowning makes you more attentive and detail-oriented, thus helping you avoid your gut reaction when what you really need to do is think. Researchers had participants in the study give speeches about their dream jobs, and had listeners respond either positively, nodding and smiling, or negatively, shaking their head and frowning. They were then told to record their mood afterward and create a collage. Obviously, the participants who just had to endure a cruel session of harsh judgment as stony-faced scientists stomped on their dreams reported being in a worse mood afterward. These same participants, however, became more focused on their collage, and thus churned out better, more creative work. We just think better when we're miserable.
Which is why goths make the best accountants.
Of course, the benefits are probably outweighed by the brain-destroying effects of the crippling alcoholism that is sure to follow, but maybe you can make up for all of that with ...
Scientists have known for a while that the best way to stave off the mental deterioration of old age is to keep using your brain, and try to avoid careers that involve repeatedly smashing your head into things. The question is, which mental exercises work best? The answer, surprisingly, appears to be dancing -- regardless of your age.
But wait, you're thinking, dancing isn't a mental activity! Well, maybe not the kind of dancing you do. But researchers tested a number of mental and physical activities like biking, reading, solving crosswords, swimming, golf and dancing. They found that while most physical activities offered no protection against dementia, reading and crossword solving unsurprisingly reduced the risk by up to 50 percent. But put down your crosswords -- dancing offered an incredible 76 percent reduced chance of dementia.
"It's so nice to see you finally not spending your nights shouting insults at corn."
Apparently, since dancing is so open and free to interpretation, it demands the most instant thinking. Your brain has to fire off signals to move every part of your body in crazy ways that you just don't have to ordinarily manage. Unlike bicycling or swimming, where you eventually just fall into a routine and stop thinking about it, dancing is more dynamic. And with all this rapid thinking, your brain can't help but grow extra neural pathways to keep up with you.
Researchers weren't very sure which dance in particular was the best, but they suggest that any activity that promotes rapid decision making without falling into a routine would show the same benefits. And you shouldn't wait to be a senior citizen before you consider dancing -- they found that it improves mental acuity for all ages.
Ravers are our future. And, astoundingly, that isn't a bad thing.
Also, it turns out that women benefit more than men, because women usually act as the follower in the dance routine, while men lead -- bluntly, the woman has to react to the man and fix all his fuck-ups.
Apparently some "scientists" have decided that smoking doesn't have lots of benefits, at least if you're one of those folks opposed to cancer and offending people. But it seems that, in the process of destroying everything else, nicotine has some beneficial effect on the brain.
"Don't you be getting intelligent in this house, young lady!"
Researchers at the University of Amsterdam have actually discovered that the nicotine found in cigarettes enhances both learning and memory. Since learning and memory are key areas of loss in Alzheimer's patients, researchers tested nicotine patches on elderly people with Alzheimer's, and found that after regular doses, they were two times faster and significantly more consistent at answering memory-based questions than the control group.
The researchers found that the nicotine was able to do this by improving communication among the learning centers in the brain. But, chances are that, if you still remember the beginning of this sentence, you probably don't have Alzheimer's. So this doesn't apply to regular people, right?
Oh, wait, you forgot about stupid, stupid children!
Well, good news! Researchers pumped nicotine into adolescent mice, then tested them on spatial learning and memory later in their adult life and found that those who had received small, steady levels of nicotine learned faster and performed significantly better -- months later. Not only that, but they discovered that mice are adorable with a hacking cough.
"Hey, I think instead of finishing this, I'm just gonna grab a smoke and maybe take a short nap."
All of this is starting to make sense. Think about the smartest people you know: Weren't they always smoking, while dancing, while wearing a scowl on their face? While using electrodes and a car battery to shock the shit out of their heads? Oh, we guess we haven't gotten to that one yet ...
Electricity to the Skull
If you're trying to actually improve your brain performance, then "Electrocute it!" probably only seems like a viable option if you're assuming your brain works just like the robots in Short Circuit. Nevertheless, Australian researchers have created what they're calling "transcranial direct current stimulation" (or you can go with the catchier shorthand, "thinking cap"), which delivers electric currents into the brains of brave and possibly crazy test subjects in order to test whether they can supercharge their minds.
First, you have to remove your brain ...
The researchers found that after admitting these weak electrical signals, participants were far more likely to solve complex riddles than the average person. If electricity was applied to the left brain in order to suppress its "linear" style of thinking, and a different kind of current sent to the right brain in order to increase cognitive flexibility, it caused the participants to solve these riddles at three times the rate of unstimulated participants.
"The dead body was a goldfish! How remedial."
If you're like most people, however, you probably don't want to walk around with sponges, metal caps and electrical currents running into your brain 24/7. The good news is, you wouldn't have to -- amazingly, after unhooking the caps, the participants retained their complex riddle-solving abilities for six months.
Of course, these won't be available in homes anytime soon, since it seems like the potential for accidentally fried brains is pretty high. Honestly now, how many of you didn't just say to yourself, "If a little electrical current helps me think better, then I bet a lot would give me telepathy!" Yes, here's to a future where many a roommate comes home to a tragic scene involving electrical outlets and the smell of charred hair.
Or even worse, a really hyper roommate, demanding, "Quick, ask me about some math!"
For other ways you can be more awesome, check out 5 Ways To Hack Your Brain Into Awesomeness and 5 Ways to Trick Your Body Into Being More Awesome.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 Racist Incidents That Weren't Actually Racist.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn how radiation + human body = superpowers. (Cracked.com is not responsible for horrifyingly painful deaths.)
And don't forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get sexy, sexy jokes sent straight to your news feed.
Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up for our writers workshop! Do you possess expert skills in image creation and manipulation? Mediocre? Even rudimentary? Are you frightened by MS Paint and simply have a funny idea? You can create an infographic and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!