69 Awesome Brain Hacks That Give You Mind-Blowing Powers
We don't know much about computer hacking here at Cracked, because that stuff involves numbers, but we've come across a whole bunch of different crazy brain and body hacks over the years. The following pages will help you change reality for yourself and others, stop pain by coughing, and even make yourself more attractive to the opposite sex. Years of gathered wisdom are at your disposal. Read on:
If You Avoid Thinking About the Future, You Get Better at Everything
Consider the tenses past, present, and future. The difference between the sentences "Bob is at the store buying nachos" and "Bob will go to the store to buy nachos" has explicit implications about how far we are from eating nachos. That is need-to-know information. But it may be surprising that some languages don't have a future tense, or it's not obligatory. In Mandarin, for example, it's fine to say something like "Bob store buy nachos," and nobody will make fun of your caveman speech or slap you in the mouth because you didn't immediately specify the time frame of nacho delivery.
In Mandarin, they always keep spare nachos.
One might think that speakers of such languages would just be wandering around confused, utterly unmoored from time as we know it, hurtling obliviously through chronology with no anchors to tether them, screaming into the void as history whips pas-
No? They're totally fine?
Huh. It turns out that speakers of these tenseless languages actually make far better decisions than tense-language speakers, about virtually everything.
Because they're less tense.
For example, a study by Keith Chen of Yale Business School analyzed data from 76 countries, focusing on things like saving money, smoking and exercise habits, and general health. The surprising result was that cultures in which most people speak languages without a future tense make better health and financial decisions overall. In fact, it found that speaking a tensed language, like English, made people 30 percent less likely to save money. It is thought that speakers of such languages, whom we shall call Untensers, see their lives as less of a timeline and more of a whole. Therefore they are automatically more mindful of how their decisions will affect their futures than we savage, primitive Tensers. Strangely, it seems that thinking of "the future" as being some far-off place, removed from the realities of our daily lives, makes us more likely to buy that second Xbox just because the first looked lonely.
Untensers consistently accumulate more wealth, hold onto it for longer periods of time, are healthier, and live longer than Tensers, for whom the past is something we've left behind, and the future is like a distant planet where consequences live that we don't fully intend to visit.
Music Changes Your Ability to Perceive Time
Hold music -- the stuff you hear on the line when you call everyone from the bank to your local bail bond agency -- didn't fall into America's phone lines by accident. It's designed specifically to reduce the amount of time you think you're waiting, so that you're less likely to hang up in anger. Other places that involve waiting, such as doctors' offices, use a similar trick. Time shrinkage is also the aim of most retail stores, which is why you'll rarely enter a mall, supermarket or clothing store without hearing some sort of music in the background.
Our coke dealer always has Iggy Pop on at his apartment.
How Does It Work?
To understand why exactly music makes it seem like less time has passed, think of the human brain as a mountain lion that is eating a bag of money. It doesn't matter what the zookeepers distract it with -- food, shiny objects or just shouting and yelling. All that matters is that they give another zookeeper the chance to sneak up and retrieve the money while the lion is busy deciding which one of them to eat.
Similarly, when your brain is steadily distracted, you'll be less likely to notice things around you in detail, and this includes the passage of time. Our brains have limited input capacity, and when something else is using up that capacity, we're less likely to think things like, "I've been standing in line to get Richard Moll's autograph for three goddamn hours" or "Do I really need this Garfield alarm clock?"
"Will Katy Perry really sleep with me if I keep buying her music?"
But it works the opposite way, too. In some situations, listening to music can actually expand perceived time. For example, listening to music while performing tasks that require concentration will usually cause us to overestimate the amount of time that has passed. The theory is that as your mind switches back and forth between perception of the music and concentration on the challenging tasks, it forms separate "events," or distinct memories. When your brain thinks about what you've been doing for the past hour, you'll remember more of these events and recall that the hour was quite long.
Experiments have found that time also expands when we're listening to familiar music that we dislike.
When we hear the opening chords of a song, our brain remembers the whole thing and immediately skips ahead and plays it mentally. This fake mind-music is extremely vivid, working on exactly the same parts of the brain as actual music does. So the effect is that you take a few moments to vividly imagine that you're sitting through five minutes of that damn New Radicals song before you come back to reality only to realize that you still actually have to sit through it.
Change the Reality of a Situation by Changing How It's Phrased
You're probably already aware that minor changes to the wording of a survey can alter people's opinions. During the health care debate in 2010, for example, four separate organizations conducted polls to see what percentage of Americans supported a so-called "public option." Their results ranged from a measly 44 percent to 66 percent support, due in large part to differences in wording. Calling it a "government administered health insurance plan -- something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get" garnered 66 percent support. And calling it "a government-run health insurance plan" plummeted support to 44 percent. Calling it "Just what Mussolini would have wanted" reduced the number to 2 percent.
"Ha-HAAAAAAAH! NOW I'VE GOT YOU!"
You might think that it's just a matter of people not actually understanding how the system works ("I said I wanted Medicare, not GOVERNMENT!"), but it really is all about how the brain can be manipulated with very subtle differences in wording, regardless of your knowledge level.
In this study, social psychologists sent out surveys to several hundred registered voters before an election. Half the recipients were asked if it was "important to vote." The other half were asked if it was "important to be a voter." With this one difference, the people who read the word "voter" were nearly 14 percent more likely to actually vote on Election Day. The researchers suspected that using the word "voter" caused people to identify themselves with the word. Since these people considered themselves to be voters, they were more likely to get out and vote.
"I was called a motherfucker, too, but that's on everyone's manifesto."
On the other hand, using the word "vote" implied that the survey was asking the people to perform a task. Even if they answered "yes" to the question, they felt no association with the word (i.e., they weren't voters, they were just being told to vote), so they were less likely to follow through. One was about a simple action, the other was about being a type of person.
You've been manipulated this way all your life, and now it's time to start manipulating back. Don't ask your friend with the truck if he can help move your mattress; ask if he'll participate in a community-supported housing initiative. Don't ask the cop to let you off for speeding; ask if Officer Gives-a-Shit doesn't want to stimulate the local economy via a highly targeted middle-class tax break. Getting your way is easy when you let your words do the weaseling for you.
Music Makes You Stronger
It's no secret that many people prefer to listen to music when they work out. But music doesn't just make physical activity more pleasant -- it actually makes our physical performance measurably better. When listening to music, people are able to hold heavy weights for longer than when they're standing in silence. They can also complete sprints in smaller amounts of time and are even able to reduce their oxygen intake.
This is why Rocky does all of his training in musical montages.
How Does It Work?
Similar to the time-perception effect we referenced above, one element is just plain old distraction. Obviously, if your mind is listening to music, it's not thinking about how much your legs hurt or how much longer you've got to run before the treadmill makes that final beeping noise. But there's much more to it than that.
First, there's synchronicity. When you match your movements to a steady musical tempo, you spend less time and effort on the inefficient slowing down and speeding up that happens when you're going by your own rhythm. Music also increases the incidence of "flow" states -- states of meditation-like calm in which everything works right for an athlete and that is strongly linked to enhanced performance.
It's all in the music.
Music can even make you feel less pain. Patients listening to music after surgery need less sedatives, report less pain and have lower blood pressure. As if that's not impressive enough, doctors have found that specially selected melodic music dramatically reduces stress in patients during unsedated brain surgery. In some cases, music caused patients to relax so much that many of them fell into a deep sleep, while people sliced into their exposed brains with fucking scalpels.
And even if you're lucky enough to be asleep during surgery, there's a good chance the doctors working on you are listening to music, since most surgeons believe it improves their performance, too. So the next time you're about to go under a general anesthetic, consider the fact that the guy with the scalpel might soon be timing his incisions to Whitesnake.
"Here I go again on my own, sawing through the whitest bones I've ever knooown ..."
Your Hand Is a Poor Man's Night-Vision Goggles
Thinking You Smell Good Makes You More Attractive
Entire multibillion-dollar industries are built upon the idea that smelling good gets you dates (smell can also influence who you're attracted to). But when we say that your sense of smell can make a man more attractive to the ladies, we're not just pointing out that a quick sniff test of one's clothing before heading out is a reliable start on the path of not dying alone. And we're not talking about those pheromone sprays that promise to make women ignore the crumbs caught in your neckbeard.
No, this is weirder.
Because horse souls smell like fucking.
In a recent study conducted by the University of Liverpool, they had some guys spray themselves with Lynx (the English version of Axe Body Spray). Then they had women rate the men's attractiveness ... via videotape. As in, they were out of smelling range. The men who sprayed themselves down were still rated as more attractive, even though the women couldn't smell them.
According to the scientists running the experiment, the power was inside the men the whole time. The guys given the scented spray figured they smelled good, so their body language displayed more confidence, and the women who watched them responded to that.
"You don't have to tell me. Johnny Beardface already knows, baby."
So does this mean these dudes were just brainwashed by Lynx's marketing campaign? They actually believed the ads that claim spraying this stuff will have women diving for their junk?
Nope -- the can of spray used in the experiment was unmarked, so the men had no idea what kind of deodorant they were covering themselves with. It seems like pretty much anything that doesn't actually smell like mustard gas will do the trick. It turns out the amazing mind-control powers of smell aren't about making the girl at the bar swoon -- it's about tricking yourself into having a little confidence for once.
"I ... I'm just shy. I can't help it."
Filling Your Cubicle With Personal Crap Makes You Productive
Nobody else likes the personal crap you fill your desk with at work. That "inspirational" picture of you and your mom climbing Mount McKinley is trite and forgettable. Oh, and that picture of your girlfriend with the lyrics to "Wonderwall" printed beneath it? Do you even know what that song's about? Clearly not, because no one does.
And yet, somehow, this asinine behavior hacks your brain.
How? Tell Me!
Having control over one small, utterly inconsequential aspect of our lives improves our productivity by 32 percent. Learning this is a real shot to the nuts for your adolescent sense of rebellion. Faceless corporations (man) can cram us into our upholstered prisons like sardines in a can, but we'll still do their bidding as long as they give us a crayon to color the wall with. The unvarnished truth is that our supposedly indomitable spirits (man) can be domitabled with as little as a roll of double-sided tape, some glitter, a color printer, and five minutes' access to our Facebook photo albums.
Truly, the spirit of the revolution is dead. Maaan.
You Can Feel Like You Had a Good Night's Sleep After Two Hours
So you just picked up the night shift at your local McDonald's, you have class every morning at 8 a.m., and you have no idea how you're going to make it through the day without looking like a guy straight out of Dawn of the Dead, minus the blood ... hopefully.
"SLEEEEEEEEEP ... uh ... I mean ... BRAAAIIIIINNNSSS ..."
What if we told you there was a way to sleep for little more than two hours a day and still feel more refreshed than taking a 12-hour siesta on a bed made entirely out of baby kitten fur? No more sneaking naps at the fry station for you!
How? Tell Me!
It's called the Uberman Sleep Schedule, and besides having a totally badass name, it's a way to get the maximum amount of essential sleep for your body without wasting hours of precious time you could be using to work or drink or farm for World of Warcraft gold. The schedule consists of taking six 20- to 30-minute power naps every four hours during the day. Of course, this new sleep pattern blows donkey-dick to get used to, but it's a price you have to pay to basically extend your waking life by several years.
We're pretty sure Kramer did this once on Seinfeld so it's probably a great idea.
The best way to start it off is to jump right in. Get to sleep at 8 p.m., set your alarm for 8:30. Get up, play some Call of Duty, sleep again at 12, alarm at 12:30, and so on. After three or four days of this, you will start to get high as fuck because of sleep deprivation, and you might just want to kill yourself, but don't do it! That would be absolutely counterproductive.
By day 10 or so, your brain will say, "Fuck! FINE, we'll do it your way," and will adapt to your new superhuman sleep schedule. When you sleep normally, your body gets only about an hour and a half of REM sleep, the kind of sleep that is thought to be the most important to keeping your brain sharp. While other stages of sleep help your body to heal and grow, the REM sleep is what makes you feel rested.
Of course, sleeping in a bed doesn't hurt, either.
The first few days of adjusting are tough because your body isn't getting ANY of this REM sleep, and your brain hates you for it. After the third day, or so, your brain figures out that you mean business, and every time you lie down for one of these naps, it dives directly into REM sleep in an attempt to compensate for the deprivation. Do some quick math and that's two full hours of REM sleep, while those who sleep normally are only getting an hour and a half.
Before you know it, while the rest of the world snores away, you'll be up and drawing dicks on their faces.
Sports Drinks Work (and You Don't Even Need to Drink Them)
Sports drinks are a huge business -- Gatorade alone makes well over a billion dollars a year. And the reason so many athletes swear by them is the promise of increased performance, replacing all those vital nutrients lost during exercise, just like the ads say.
"GIVE ME SIGHT BEYOND SIGHT!"
It turns out, however, that all that electrolyte and rehydration technology is nothing compared to the simple pleasure of having a bunch of sugar in your mouth.
A study found that sports drinks work because they activate the pleasure center of your brain. You don't even have to drink them, just swishing some around in your mouth and spitting it out has the same effect.
However, motor oil will not "unlock the power" like the bottle says.
The carbohydrates in the drink stimulate receptors in your mouth that then send your brain messages that things are all totally cool. Your brain, in turn, becomes more active in the pleasure center, allowing you to enjoy feeling the burn far longer than some idiot without a sugary drink. It also stimulates the part of your brain in charge of movement control. So not only will you be content while kicking your water-drinking opponent's ass, you'll actually be kicking it harder.
Trick Your Brain into Thrift by Paying With Cash
You Can Tell If She's Interested by Looking at Her Feet
Remember back in high school when you were talking to that cute girl you really liked, but you couldn't tell if she liked you back, and your fear of rejection prevented you from expressing your feelings in any way apart from night after night of tearful masturbation? Remember when you did the same thing last week? Wouldn't asking someone out be so much easier if you knew how they'd answer before you asked them?
Science to the rescue!
How? Tell Me!
Experts will tell you it's all in the body language, but you know better. People -- and especially women -- are really, really good at feigning disinterest. Anything short of the woman outright grabbing your junk will be lost on most guys.
"I realized she was into me right around the time we started having sex."
But watch her feet.
Apparently, people aren't as conscious of their foot movements as they are of other parts of their body, and so their feet can unconsciously send messages about themselves. They did a study at the University of Manchester on this, observinging subjects' foot movements in various social situations.
The angle of her heels says "I put out," but those knees say "not for you."
Specifically, they found that if a woman moves her feet apart to adopt a more open-legged stance, it generally means that she's into you. However, if she finds you utterly repulsive, she will likely cross her legs or keep them tucked underneath her body. We'll, uh, let you figure out the symbolic meaning of those gestures.
Your Brain Can Be Tricked into Legal Hallucinations
Yes, that's right, kids! Tell your dealer goodbye and worry no more about winding up naked on the roof of an office building after a bad trip. Now you can be stoned out of your mind by building a homemade deprivation chamber out of some regular, completely harmless household objects.
How? Tell Me!
You 'll need three things: a ping pong ball, a radio with headphones, and a red light.
Step 1: Turn the radio to a station with white noise (static) and put on your headphones.
Step 2: Cut the ping pong ball in half and tape each half over your eyes.
Step 3: Turn the red light so it's facing your eyes.
Step 4: Sit there for at least a half hour.
Step 5: Follow Ben Franklin and your new friend, Harold the unicorn, into the gumdrop forest, and live happily ever after.
How Does It Work?
It's called the Ganzfeld effect, and it works by blocking out most of the signals that go to your brain. It's the same kind of effect you get when looking into a soft light for a while and lose vision, except on a larger scale.
The sound of the white noise and the light from the outside of the ping pong ball are eventually ignored by your brain. With all those signals out of the picture, your brain has to create its own, and this is where the hallucinations come in. We can't guarantee they won't involve, say, the ghost of Lizzie Borden trying to hack off your scrotum with an ax, but that's the risk you take, dammit.
Now, if you want a little more control over your hallucinations ...
You Can Dream Whatever You Want to Dream
What if we told you there was a way to make all your fantasies come true? You could have that sports car you've always wanted and the daily threesome with Sarah Palin and Cannonball Run-era Burt Reynolds. Hell, we'll even throw in a few superpowers for your enjoyment.
We never miss an opportunity to use this picture.
Welcome to the wonderful world of lucid dreaming.
How? Tell Me!
Most of you reading this have had a lucid dream before. Every once in a while you wind up in a dream but somehow recognize it as a dream, and you may have found yourself able to pretty much program the dream to your specifications. While there are plenty of tips and tricks to make this happen on purpose, we've narrowed it down to what seems like the most useful, so that you can be riding dinosaurs with Gary Coleman in your sleep in no time:
Cowboy hat optional.
1. Keep a Dream Journal
As soon as you wake up from a dream, write down every little thing you can remember about it. Supposedly by writing it down, your brain recognizes certain patterns that only occur in a dream (since most dreams are immediately forgotten) and if they are on paper, you can recall them easily.
2. Think about exactly what you want to dream right before you fall asleep. Makes sense. For instance you've probably fallen asleep watching MythBusters before and immediately dreamed you were flying through the air, using a giant version of Jamie's mustache as a hang glider.
3. The best time to have a lucid dream is either right before you regularly wake up, or right after. Studies have shown that more people have lucid dreams when they take a nap shortly after they first wake up in the morning.
So you can do all that, or if you are the lazy type, get yourself something like the NovaDreamer, a device that detects when you've entered REM sleep and then makes a noise that's supposed to be not quite enough to wake you up, but enough to raise your awareness to, "Hey, this is totally a dream I'm having!" levels.
Obviously the big difference between a dream and real life is that if the Hamburglar came bursting out of your refrigerator right now and started screaming at you in Vietnamese, your first thought would be "This is a strange and unusual event that is occurring right now, and I should question my perceptions." If the same thing happens in a dream, you just go with it.
Yes, Mel Gibson is dressed like Colonel Sanders. No, this is not a dream.
In a dream state, your mind mostly loses the ability to criticize anything that's happening because dreaming just doesn't involve the critical part of your brain. You're all worried that you're at work in your underwear, and don't even blink at the fact that your boss is a dragon who speaks in the voice of your old middle school gym coach.
But if you change your mental state ever so slightly, that critical part of your brain can keep functioning even while in dreamland. If you can perfect the technique of dreaming while not all the way asleep, the next thing you know you're ordering up a Smurf orgy.
You Can Reset Your Sleep Cycle With a Hunger Strike
Chances are, when summer vacation or the holidays come around and you're given time off work or school, your sleeping patterns falter a little bit ("a little bit" is a phrase that here means "you play video games until the 'a.m.' and 'p.m.' dot on your alarm clock has completely lost its meaning"). The thing is, you know you're going to be screwed once the holidays are over and you have to go back to getting up at 6 or 7 a.m., and that you'll be a zombie at work or school for at least a week. Sure, you could do the responsible thing and gradually set your alarm earlier and earlier each day until it's just right, giving you a smooth and healthy transition to work-life. Or, you could use one of your body's cheat codes and readjust your sleep cycle.
How? Tell Me!
Simple! Just starve yourself for about 16 hours.
Don't forget to compensate for the hunger madness.
You might know that the main way our body regulates its biological clock (and circadian rhythm) is through light. So when your brain is detecting light, it has your body behave as it should in the daytime (higher energy, greater strength, more bowel movements, etc.), and when the brain notices that the environment is dark after an extended period of brightness, then it imagines you're about to go to sleep, and it releases hormones (like melatonin) that make you sleepy. What you might not have known is that scientists recently found a second clock, and instead of depending on light, this one is food-based.
The food-clock desires this.
Imagine you're a predator out hunting for food (and Jesse Ventura), but all the regular animals you would eat are nowhere to be found. You spend the entire day looking for food and find nothing. About 16 hours later your brain starts freaking out. It knows that if you can't find food, the jig will most certainly be up. So at this point, your brain doesn't give a tinkerer's damn about sunlight and sleep cycles -- it just wants you to find something to eat, and fast. You stay up well into the night and eventually find some nocturnal prey, devouring it desperately. Your brain (through the food-clock) makes a note of this time and declares it to be your new biological morning.
The slaying of pizza rolls has set countless new biological mornings.
It makes sense -- your brain is now under the impression that if you want to survive, you can only go hunting at night. So it decides you should sleep during the day (to conserve energy for the hunt) and boom, your sleep-wake cycle has been reset. Congratulations! You've tricked evolution!
Dehydration Tricks You into Feeling Hungry
Hand Gestures Can Manipulate Your Mind
We previously pointed out that if you're right-handed, you instinctively prefer things that are on your right, and vice versa. The theory is that, while we think with our brains, we use our hands to interact with the world, so the thinking part of your brain gets tricked into liking things that happen to be within reach of the hand you prefer to use. Elsewhere, we mentioned that you're more likely to remember facts if you associate them with a hand gesture, which is probably why some people are so animated with their hands when trying to recount a story. But how far does this weird hand-brain connection go? Could, say, other people use hand gestures to manipulate you without you knowing it?
You already know that the answer is yes.
How? Tell Me!
Let's say you're an eyewitness to a bank heist. The cops come up to you and ask you to describe the guy. The officer says, "Did he have a beard?" And he does that thing that some people do, gesturing at his own chin as if you somehow didn't know what a beard was and needed him to physically demonstrate. And in that moment you think, "Yeah ... I believe he did have a beard."
Guess what: That guy's hand gesture just programmed your memory.
The University of Hertfordshire did a series of tests where they interviewed participants about a video they had watched. While asking questions, the researchers deliberately made misleading gestures, like stroking their chin to suggest a beard or touching their wrist to indicate a watch. The test subjects were three times more likely to believe that the guy in the video had a beard if the interviewer pretended to stroke his nonexistent goatee while asking about it. These weren't mouth farts where you say "bearded" despite thinking "clean shaven," either. The gesture actually brainwashed the subjects into honestly believing that the guy had a beard.
And yes, when a politician or lawyer stands up and makes those hand gestures to drive home his point (pointing at the audience, slapping his palm with his fist), that totally works. There are detailed guides on what exactly you should be doing with your hands if you want the audience to buy what you're selling. That's why a president can't simply say, "I've got your cruise missile right here" -- he needs to actually gesture toward his crotch to get the full effect.
"No, it's important that you understand that I wish for you to literally go fuck yourself. Twice."
Use Someone's Shoes to Read Their Personality Type
We're not talking about the obvious here, the way goths and metalheads deal in black boots, hippies have their sandals, and hipsters will tie their grandmother's old curtains around their feet if it gives them an excuse to look down on someone. According to science, the soled husks that cover a stranger's feet are probably revealing details about how they deal with other people.
We're calling it: date rapist.
How? Tell Me!
A study by a pair of colleges found some peculiar trends in our choice of shoes, but not what you might think. Subjects couldn't deduce, say, political affiliation by looking at shoes, but could deduce a shit-ton of extremely personal information, including your potentially insecure, clingy behavior in close relationships. Some examples, brought to you by science:
-Anxious, clingy people prefer new and well-maintained footwear to ease their bundle of nerves.
"Ah, better than a Xanax."
-People who wear practical shoes tend to be relatively agreeable.
-Calm, collected folks seem to get a kick out of wearing shoes that look uncomfortable (maybe to express the roaring ball of mayhem and agony they're constantly hiding within?).
-Aggressive people tend to wear ankle boots, which seems to have no inherent logic at all ... until you realize that they're clearly subconsciously selecting their footwear for better kicking-stuff-angrily ergonomics.
"Oh yeah, that's a pair of Class 5 Coccyx Breakers."
If you're reading this and thinking, "Well, my shoes don't say anything deep about my personality, I just picked them because they were comfortable and cheap!" keep in mind that it's a certain personality type who thinks that way. That's the point -- no matter what logic you think you're following in your own head when you step into your local mall's Shoes 'N' Shit store, you're still following logic that makes sense to your personality type. Making that purchase reveals that type to the world.
You Can Learn More While You Sleep
Say you're tired of sleeping like a mere mortal and want to learn how to turn those useless REM cycles into productivity cycles. A very minor change in your schedule can let you use your sleep patterns to your advantage, thus making you smarter.
How? Tell Me!
No, we're not talking about those scams where they have you put a tape recorder under your pillow and let it teach you Spanish while you're asleep. What scientists have found out is if you need to remember a bunch of information (say, for a big exam), do NOT study right up until time for the exam. Study at least 24 hours before, and sleep on it.
Note: "Sleep on it" is simply an expression. You can sleep in a bed.
They did a study at Harvard that proved this technique works. Participants were separated into three different groups after being shown images that they were told to memorize. One of the groups was tested on the memorization after 20 minutes, the other after 12 hours and the last after 24 hours. You would expect that the ones who were tested just 20 minutes later would do best, but that would, of course, make a really shitty story.
No, the participants who slept on it and had 24 hours for the information to fester in their brain did the best on the test, while those who only had 20 minutes did the worst.
Wasting your time, nerds, go to sleep.
How is it possible that your brain works like leveling up in Dungeons and Dragons? Scientists say the ability your brain has to retain information works in three different ways: acquisition, consolidation, and recall. While the first and last occur while you're awake, it's the middleman that is important during sleep.
When you sleep, your brain is constantly processing information that you couldn't have processed with everything going on up there during the day. This works to strengthen your neurological bonds in the brain. Think of it like downloading something on a computer. When you go to download something while your porn is up, it takes longer, right? Close up any applications that are running and you have a smoother, quicker download. Yeah, kind of like that ... maybe.
So does this technique work with the "sleep two hours a day" system we mentioned earlier? We're not sure anyone has tried it, but by our calculations such a person would immediately gain mental superpowers, possibly including telekinesis. Somebody in the comments try it and let us know.
Drinking at Work Makes You Creative
Getting drunk at work may have been the bee's knees in the Don Draper era, but that was a simpler time, before we knew how bad cigarettes, alcoholism, and recreational adultery were. We've learned a few things since the '60s. Or we did for a while, and then we forgot them all when Mad Men debuted because they make it look so cool!
Here he is, doing the thing the article is about and looking like he's nervous about how clean his next fart is going to be.
As much as we romanticize the behavior, there are all kinds of reasons drinking during the work day would be bad for you. Foremost is the fact that you'll be drunk afterward. Ever tried to get anything done while you were drunk? And hey, you assholes who just said "I write all my college papers drunk!" -- are you still under the wild delusion that college is in any way representative of the real world? It isn't. You're still a child; you can just drink now.
But anyway, in some very specific situations, getting kinda drunk at work will help you out.
How? Tell Me!
In certain contexts, having a glass or two actually improves creativity (hold on a second ...)
There we go.
... while decreasing focus. It's all about finding a balance: Like I've pointed out, allowing your mind to wander a little bit improves creativity, because your thoughts explore new avenues and angles that you just can't achieve by focusing. It's the same way a light bulb lights up more areas than a flashlight, while the flashlight just makes one specific area brighter.
But sadly, it looks like the stiffs have won this fight: Job candidates who order alcoholic beverages during interviews are seen as less intelligent, even if the interviewer is in the process of getting sloshed, meaning that all human resources reps are dicks and that the people who write for the Journal of Consumer Psychology have way more fun job interviews than you.
Your Gag Reflex Has an Off Switch
You Can Tell How Much Someone Drinks From Their Eye Color
There comes a time in every man's life when it will be necessary to drink another guy under the table. Maybe you're trying to win a bet, or prove your manliness, or maybe you're in a terrible rom-com and the only thing that stands between you and the woman you love is the varsity liquor drinking team that challenged you to a duel. We don't know ... we don't write the rules.
We merely follow them to their inevitable, disastrous conclusion.
So naturally you'll pick out some blond-haired, blue-eyed pretty boy who looks like two Bud Lights would have him over a toilet. An hour later, you are praying for death. And to think this all could have been avoided if you had known how to pick out a lightweight drinker.
How? Tell Me!
Picking the blue-eyed guy was a bad move. It turns out, eye color is an amazing indicator of how much alcohol a person can drink before it affects them.
"I can't even get through my breakfast changing without a fifth of SoCo."
A study of thousands of white men (all of them prisoners) found that for some reason, those with light eye colors like blue, green, gray or hazel, can handle more alcohol than men with dark eyes. And a totally different study of almost 2,000 women found that the same held true for them.
"No, no. We're not alcoholics. We just both have green eyes."
Even more interesting is the fact that this result was predicted before the study. Because apparently brown-eyed folks are more sensitive to medication and other stimuli, and that sensitivity is what prompts them to stop when they've had enough. Blue-eyed people, on the other hand, require more alcohol to get buzzed, so they develop a greater tolerance for the stuff. And according to the study, the blue-eyed people are also more likely to be alcohol abusers.
As for what eye color has to do with alcohol tolerance, scientists are still on the fence. One theory is that the amount of melanin in the eyes is directly related to the amount of melanin insulating neurons in the central nervous system, and that more melanin somehow translates to quicker nerve transmissions. In any case, you might want to think again before challenging someone with baby blues to a drinking contest.
"You unbelievable bastard. You were wearing brown contacts the whole time?"
Email Turns You into a Liar
One of the reasons it's difficult to lie to someone's face is that it's not just the words you're saying that have to sound convincing. You have to think about eye contact, body movements -- everything has to come together to tell a believable lie. Because of this, psychologists have always known that people are more likely to lie in a letter than face-to-face.
But a recent study found that while you might fib with pen and paper you are almost guaranteed to lie over email. Participants in the study were instructed to split $89 with a second party. They were told the other participant would not know the amount being split, and had to accept any amount offered. An incredible 92 percent of people using email lied about the amount of money they were splitting. Only 64 percent of those writing it down did (although, 64 percent? We're just bad at being a species, aren't we?). On average, the email users gave their partners $27 less than a fair split.
Person + Computer = Sociopath.
Not only that, the email users actually felt justified in lying. It seems that the act of merely staring at a computer screen is like injecting your soul with Botox, removing all emotional investment and guilt about what you type. It might be worth keeping that in mind the next time your boss emails you to tell you how well he thought your presentation went.
Constant, manic paranoia is all that can save your career.
You Can Tell if a Woman Has Had an Orgasm by How She Walks
Of course, all of our male readers are already virtual experts on the subject of female sexuality. But for the rare, sheltered fan who isn't, we need to explain something about the female orgasm. When it comes to climaxing, ladies can do it two ways: from the inside or from the outside. The inside orgasm comes from the G-spot and is super easy to achieve if her partner's penis is shaped like a letter "J." Most women, however, climax from the outside or clitoral stimulation.
Some women require more ... elaborate measures to achieve orgasm.
If for some reason you are curious to know whether, say, the lady who delivers your mail has regular vaginal orgasms, there's an easy way to tell.
How? Tell Me!
By the way she walks. Not joking.
Rascal-bound women remain as damnably incomprehensible as ever.
A group of sexologists (which is apparently a thing) from the Universite Catholique de Louvain in Belgium studied the connection between the way a woman walks and her vaginal orgasm history. What else did you think sexologists studied?
They gathered a group of women -- half had never had vaginal orgasms, half had. And then, we shit you not, the scientists had to guess which group each lady fell into by the way she sashayed her stuff across the room.
"I don't know about you Dr. Stodgson, but I suddenly feel like this might be the most important study we've ever conducted."
And here was the kicker: It worked. The sexologists could determine whether or not the woman in question could have a vaginal orgasm with freaking 81.25 percent accuracy.
Now, we caution you against trying this if you're not a trained sexologist yourself -- we're not responsible for any injuries or incorrect conclusions drawn. But the experts say women who were climaxing from the inside had longer stride lengths, greater pelvic rotation and an "absence of both flaccid and locked muscles." In other words, they had a little shake in their hips, a little pep in their stride and didn't look like they were clenching a tennis ball with their thigh muscles. A loose but confident walk. Now you know, and you'll never, never un-know.
We're so sorry.
"Loosey goosey, babycakes."
Making Other People Schedule Around You Makes YOU More Productive
This is the guy who stumbles into the office sometime in the afternoon with a three-day beard and hangover shades. The dude who never comes in close to on time and just assumes that everyone else will adjust to compensate.
But hey, it turns out that guy is actually a better worker.
How? Tell Me!
Everybody has different body clocks. Not only does your natural wake-up time get earlier as you grow older, but that rate is different for everyone -- so keeping everyone on the same schedule makes about as much sense as insisting that they're all named "Sven" to save money on name tags. It's actually just basic common sense: If you let people work when their body is ready for them to work instead of when their brain is screaming at them to get some sleep, they'll work more efficiently and be in better moods.
Scientists have found that most people do their best thinking in the late morning, and asking adults to focus between noon 4 p.m. is basically a fool's errand. People start to get tired after lunch, and if they don't take time for a siesta, their productivity plummets. A 2011 study found that students who were asked to solve problems requiring novel thinking during non-peak hours of the day performed worse on those tasks. Since everyone hits those peak hours at slightly different times, people work best when they can function according to their natural clocks.
Trick Yourself into Feeling the Impossible
Wearing Red Helps You Win at Competitive Sports
We've already covered how wearing red makes you more attractive to the opposite sex, but now it looks like we might as well throw away any non-rose toned clothing because it turns out it makes you more likely to win at sports too.
This man will humiliate you on the field and then take your girlfriend.
Two British researchers studied the results of the 2004 Olympics and found that the team or person wearing red was more likely to win in close matches -- and that's across a huge variety of team and individual sports, like soccer, tae kwon do, and wresting.
The key, though, is close matches; if you were ranked 23rd and had to wrestle the #1 guy in the world, no amount of red would save you.
No one's buying it, Cleveland.
But in an even match-up, wearing red is a statistically significant factor in winning. The researchers think the reason for this might not be all that different from why red attracts us to people: Red equals dominance.
We see it in species of monkeys, too, where the males have red colorations in their face and butts. The more dominant males tend to be much redder then the ones lower down the hierarchy. In humans, our faces turn red when we are all riled up, angry or ready for a fight. The association of red uniforms with dominance and aggression may send subconscious signals to an opponent that they are being really stupid and challenging the alpha male.
Give People Candy to Make Them Nicer
Imagine a likeable person. Pay particular attention to the qualities that make people perceive her as "nice." You might describe her as helpful. Fun, definitely. Honest when it counts, malleable enough to take the punches while you run away from the MMA fighter you just drunkenly mooned. All that goes with the territory. Perhaps, if you're feeling sappy enough, you might even describe the person as "sweet."
Sweet. That's a funny word in this context, now that we come to think of it. There's nothing about nice people that makes them sweet, unless you go out of your way to caramelize them. So what started this association between "sweet" and "nice"? Their everyday behavior, apparently -- it looks like munching on candy can turn a person into a regular good Samaritan.
"Very well, cotton candy. I'll pack his chest wound with gauze, if you insist."
How? Tell Me!
To be clear, we're not talking about how giving somebody a candy bar will put them in a better mood and thus make them more willing to do nice things (although one experiment did find that, it's also kind of obvious). No, they actually did five different studies (the abstract of which hilariously points out that nice people indeed rarely taste sweeter than others, thus gently alluding to another, far darker research project behind this one) and found that a general preference for candy means the person is also more likely to be agreeable and do good deeds, just because. They were just nicer people than the ones who, say, prefer potato chips instead of chocolate at snack time.
"These chips would go great with burning several men to death in an elevator."
And it gets weirder: Test subjects already knew that this would be the result. The subjects they surveyed anticipated that the candy-loving subjects would be more selfless and agreeable than people who liked savory or salty snacks. The experiment was just confirming what people had already observed in their everyday lives, even though it makes no sense. So maybe the innate goodness that lies in the heart of mankind is actually diabetes.
If You Touch an Object, You Want It More
Really persuasive people know that it's all about touch: the salesman or politician is quick to pat you on the back or shake your hand; the waitress knows that a touch on your arm gets a bigger tip. If the thing they're selling is a physical product, they know they'd better let us customers put our greasy mitts on it. This is why car salespeople are so big on making you test drive the vehicle (they literally phrase the technique as "The feel of the wheel will seal the deal").
Why? Because in humans, touch is almost a form of goddamn mind control. Whatever it is, if you touch it for a while, you'll become attached to it.
"OK, I guess I'll keep it."
Not only are people more likely to buy something they've touched, but they're actually willing to pay more -- this is why, if the product comes in a box, the store will try to put a display model out that you can handle to your heart's content. Even if you can't actually gain any information about the usefulness of the product, it doesn't matter. Running your paws over an object makes you feel connected to it, and can even give you a false sense of ownership.
This is exactly how Hitler started out.
Oh, and it also makes a difference how the object feels under our hands. We don't just mean that we judge a new shirt based on how soft it is -- that sort of makes sense. We mean that one study showed that water in a firm cup tasted better than water in a flimsy cup, regardless of the fact that it was the same water. Even when people were just told about the firmer cup, they declared its water superior -- just because the container felt better under their hands. Hey, do you think this is why super-expensive Fiji water comes in thicker bottles that contain twice as much plastic? Or why Perrier still uses freaking glass?
If you want to know what the future of touch-based brainwashing is, well, it involves products that enjoy making you touch them. Sony tried this with their QRIO robot -- a vaguely canine mecha-creature that recognizes faces and responds to touch -- by letting it loose among a bunch of 2-year-olds. Usually, toddlers treat robots like regular toys, tossing them around and using them as blunt weapons before quickly getting bored with them. But QRIO is different -- it senses touch and gives little giggles of pleasure. When it started doing that, the kids accepted it as a living being. Instead of throwing it around, the kids gently touched it, just like it was another child, and even put a blanket over it when it "laid down for a nap." We're thinking the first company that makes a cellphone that squeals with pleasure every time you touch it is going to dominate the market.
We'll just let you make your own child molestation joke here.
Each Ear Is Better at Different Tasks
At some point you've probably seen that spinning ballerina GIF floating around online, the one that supposedly tells you whether you're "left-brained" or "right-brained." We won't go into the details here, but not only is the ballerina test bullshit, but the thing it's testing (that logical people rely on the left hemisphere and artistic people the right) is a fairly large over-simplification. In reality, both hemispheres work together for pretty much everything.
It takes a full brain to make us as gullible as we are.
However, it is true that your two hemispheres aren't identical. In the case of sound, it's long been known that your left hemisphere kicks ass at deciphering verbal information like speech, and the right hemisphere excels with tones and music. It is also known that your left brain controls the right side of your body and vice versa. But because the information between the hemispheres is shared (through the corpus callosum -- yea, Latin), it shouldn't make much difference which ear you use to listen to things, right?
Nope. Each ear hears in a different way, and you can use that to your advantage.
How? Tell Me!
It turns out that because the left ear is always sending shit (music) to the right hemisphere and the right ear is always sending shit (speech) to the left hemisphere, the ears themselves have actually evolved in the way they process sounds.
Which means you're paying 50 percent too much for headphones.
As a result, your right ear is measurably better at processing speech, and your left ear more so at tones and music. Now, don't go expecting that turning your head to give the appropriate ear will produce a surround sound digitally remastered version of what you've normally been hearing, but there will be an improvement. This is important to remember the next time you're sneaking through the air vents of an evil corporation, or just trying to figure out whether that is in fact a Peter Gabriel song you're hearing in the supermarket.
Fix Your Itchy Throat With a Finger
Music Can Return Your Lost Memories
If you want music to help you but refuse to stop smoking pot, perhaps you can at least remember where you put your car keys. Or, more applicably, if you have Alzheimer's, it could help you remember pieces of your past.
Medical practitioners have found that music shows the potential to unearth memories associated with music for patients, even ones in late stages of dementia. So if you had your first kiss to the dulcet tones of Jefferson Starship, their terrible, terrible music could bring that memory right back for you.
How Does It Work?
Listening to music engages many areas of the brain in both hemispheres, which is why it can create brain activity other methods, like conversation, can't. Another area it engages is the hippocampus, which would be a hilarious name for a school for aquatic mammals but in reality is the less impressive region of the brain which handles long-term memory storage.
When you listen to music you know, feelings associated with the song are returned by the hippocampus. Sometimes the memories even manage to come along with the relevant feelings, so hopefully no music was playing the first time anyone ever kicked you in the junk. Even if memories aren't recovered, emotions and attitudes are, allowing people who can't even remember who they are from day to day or why they loathe the FOX network so much to at least laugh and sing along with off key hopefuls on American Idol.
You Can Spot a Rich Person by How Distracted They Are During Conversations
Maybe you're one of those hippy types who couldn't care less about the socioeconomic status of everyone around you. We're really happy for you if that's the case. But for most of us, knowing where we stand among our peers actually helps us avoid embarrassing gaffes or rage-inducing insults. For example, if you're rolling in the benjamins daily and nightly, it would be nice if you didn't brag about a caviar breakfast to someone who's been looking for work for six months. No one wants to be that guy.
"It's easy to forget what real life is like when you spend nine months a year yachting."
Which is why it would be nice if you could tell how rich a guy is just by looking at him. Guess what? You can! By looking at what kind of car he drives!
Ha, no, just kidding. The truth is actually sillier than that.
How? Tell Me!
In 2009, two University of California psychologists performed a study on the relationship between nonverbal cues and socioeconomic status. To do this, they placed participants in pairs and videotaped them talking as they got to know each other. What they discovered was that the richer person in the pair was more likely to display "disengagement" behaviors, like fidgeting or doodling or playing with a damned pencil while someone was trying to talk to them. The poorer of the two engaged in not being a jerk behaviors, like nodding and smiling and actually listening to the other person.
Money is the root of all assholes.
Not only could the researchers pick out which conversationalist had the higher socioeconomic background, an entirely separate group of observers could watch the tapes and pick the richies as well. The theory goes that people of a higher socioeconomic status are less dependent on others, due to their wealth and higher education. As such, they aren't as invested in conversing with others, as they have no need for it.
"I'm good, thanks!"
If the other person is acting that way and you know for a fact that they're broke, well, maybe they just hate you. Sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one.
Remember Long Lists With a "Memory Palace"
The human brain sucks at remembering lists. Think about it: When you go to the grocery store, how many items can you manage before you have to write them down? Three? Five? For most of us, if there's any more than that, we're going to get back home and find out we forgot the milk (which by the way was the whole fucking reason we went to the store in the first place).
That's weird, because there are other things in life we have no problem with. For instance, we don't have much trouble remembering the locations of a hundred different spots around town, even if we don't know the addresses (do you even know the street address of your favorite coffee shop?), or the locations of a thousand items around the house. Sure, you couldn't write them all down, but if a friend asks you where they can find a flashlight, you're probably going to have an answer. If only there was a way to exploit this strength to overcome the other weakness ...
There's only so much room on the human body to write it all down. Unless you constantly eat, we guess.
How? Tell Me!
You're able to find your way around because a whole lot of your mental horsepower is devoted to spatial memory -- learning the layout of your environment. And there is totally a way you can tap into it as a hack to remember long lists. So-called memory champions have been doing it forever. They call it creating a memory palace.
Here's how it works: You pick a familiar place that you know well and can imagine without much problem -- the inside of your house, the layout of your neighborhood, whatever. You then imagine yourself walking along a specific route in that place and associate an item on your list with each location.
"Shit, that reminds me -- I'm out of chloroform."
So let's say you're trying to remember a long grocery list, and you choose to use your neighborhood to mentally visualize it. You could imagine the first item on your list -- condoms -- scattered willy-nilly along your driveway. The next thing on your list might be beer -- you could picture your neighbor passed out drunk on his lawn, pants down, if you want. Next up is frozen pizza, so you picture pizza pies replacing all the windows at your drunken neighbor's house. Let your imagination do the hard work for you -- the more ridiculous/striking the image, the easier it'll be to remember.
It all sounds like a ridiculous extra step, but you soon realize how incredibly easy it suddenly makes it to recite a list. You're simply forcing the spatial memory part of your brain to help out. And you can start doing it at any time -- the memory palace (or method of loci) memorization technique isn't something that requires years of practice. In one 1968 study, college students were asked to memorize a list of 40 items by associating each item with a specific location around campus. Not only were the students able to memorize an average of 38 of the 40 items, but the next day they were able to name 34 of the original list (and that was in 1968 -- imagine how much more they would have remembered if the kids hadn't been on so much pot).
"Two. I can remember two things."
In another study, German senior citizens were also asked to memorize a list of 40 words by associating each word with Berlin landmarks. Before using the method, they could only recall an average of three words. After associating the German word for "father" with the Berlin zoo, for example, participants could remember an average of 23 words from the list. Oh, and you don't have to have one location for each list item, either. In yet another study, subjects just took their imaginary walk twice and were still able to remember 34 of the 40 items. Seriously, go try this.
Chewing Gum Is Brain Meth
Man, chewing gum is just ... terrible, right? Everyone considers it incredibly unprofessional. Chew up, and people will say you're worse than a Nazi.
But apparently all those people hate gum chewing because they can sense the chewers growing more powerful by the minute. That stick of Big Red is like meth for your brain, if meth didn't have any negative side effects.
How? Tell Me!
In a study where subjects were given demanding cognitive tasks to perform with or without gum, the people with gum performed better in every single category except verbal fluency because, duh, their mouths were full of gum.
Ew, no, don't take it out of your mouth, that's worse.
It didn't matter if the gum had sugar in it, so scientists base this finding on "mastication-induced arousal" (hee hee). Chewing jump-starts your brain for a solid 20 minutes or so (the effect is short-lived, sadly) and allows you to handle stress and distraction far better. So basically if everyone was chewing gum, no one would mind that everyone was chewing gum. Problem solved!
Turn Your Hands into Reading Glasses
Car "Facial Expressions" Can Force You to Buy One
The human mind loves to see human faces in everything; tortillas, clouds, cat butts, the moon, other faces, everything. The phenomenon even has a name: pareidolia. Knowing this, would you want to live in the Hitler house?
Number nein, on the reich.
Or a cardboard box that looked perpetually befuddled?
Even the homeless have their standards.
When making faces out of things, we don't just say, "Hey, that cloud looks like Abraham Lincoln" or "That scab looks like Al Roker." We give the face emotions, presumably based on which way its eyebrows and mouth are going. And researchers at the University of Vienna found that we therefore subconsciously tack on those emotions to, say, cars. In other words, we did half of Pixar's work for them in 2006.
We had to, because they clearly couldn't give a shit whether these guys were relatable.
It's easy to see it -- every car has two headlights (eyes), a grill (mouth) and maybe something that looks like a nose. So, knowing we assign emotions to objects, you'd think that most of us would pick the happiest-looking cars we could find. Like we'd all be clamoring for vintage Volkswagen Beetles.
After cleaning Lindsay Lohan's vomit off the back seats.
You'd be wrong. When we drive, we're not out there to make friends, unless you're a hippie, and then shouldn't you be on a bike or a donkey or something? Nope, what we want to convey is toughness, speed, aggression. So we want our cars to have the face of a monster. Or at least a mean dude. Researchers found that lower, wider cars with a wide air intake and angled or slit-like headlights give a picture of power. Not sleepiness, as you'd expect, but power. And that's what drivers are looking for when picking out new vehicles. At least, when picking out certain kinds of vehicles.
That's why the Dodge Charger looks pissed:
But not as mad as this Bugatti Veyron concept:
You can even see this in the boring, tame old Honda Civic. Here's the standard sedan model, for the moms out there:
Thin-lipped disapproval included.
Now here's the sport model:
Do you see the little difference? The scowl? Maybe this will help:
Wow. We're ... we're kinda sorry we had to illustrate that.
Watch out when you find yourself inexplicably drawn to some huge, pissed-off SUV in the front of the car lot. That car is a cunningly engineered trap designed to make you spend $450 per month for a decade on something even three rappers wouldn't need. On the other hand, you can use this to your advantage when selling an old car. Just do whatever you can to make it look as pissed off as possible.
Raise Your Eyebrows to Be More Creative
Despite what you may think, raising your eyebrows isn't just the universal signal for "I didn't know Ted Danson was in this movie" and/or bracing for an impending face punch. According to a study published in the Creativity Research Journal, the simple act of widening your eyeholes can actually serve as an adrenaline boost for your creative thinking.
You see, there are two different types of attention -- perceptual attention, which is given to your physical experiences, and conceptual attention, which is allotted to your mental processes. The two are inextricably linked, like conjoined twins jumping rope with their umbilical cord. If one speeds up or slows down, so does the other. Likewise, if you increase your spectrum of perceptual attention (by opening your eyes really wide, for example, or going to see one of those panoramic documentaries at Epcot Center), it should kick-start your brain into broadening its scope as well, allowing you to make all kinds of creative connections that you wouldn't have been able to otherwise.
"And that's why my eyebrows insist upon destroying the sun. Hey, wait, where are you going?"
The study tested this theory using two groups, one of which was asked to raise their eyebrows, while the other was told to keep their brows furrowed like a bunch of bitter old railroad tycoons in perpetual disapproval of their daughters' common-folk husbands. The groups were then asked to come up with a caption for an image of a dog lying on a bed with a bagel in its mouth, because the really good science is only made by crazy people.
Anyway, the group with the raised eyebrows suggested things like "Betty the Beagle Beds a Bagel," which, as you may have noticed, is a blazingly hilarious piece of sexual innuendo. The narrowed-eyed group, however, offered baffling captions, such as "Dog Who Breaks Rules," which isn't even a complete sentence. It also mysteriously refers to some prohibitive legislation governing dogs and the eating of breakfast food that, to our knowledge, has never existed at any point in the history of civilization. The point is, the first answer is clever and unobvious, while the second is lazy to the point of being meaningless.
"Woman be flower head."
The idea is that the group whose members had their eyebrows raised were receiving a greater amount of perceptual attention that they were subsequently able to translate into a greater amount of conceptual attention, thereby enhancing their nonlinear thinking. The other group was more or less squinting at the picture, which diminished their perceptual attention, and the best they could manage creatively was scribbling down some B.S. that sounded like the second half of a knock-knock joke.
Hey, give it a shot -- who knows? If anyone sees you staring wide-eyed at your computer screen like it's a doorway into a magic kingdom, they'll just assume you're really into your work, or that you're having a stroke.
Or at the very least, they'll think you're psychotic and just leave you alone.
A Person's Eyes Can Clue You in on Their Political Views
Granted, most of the time you know somebody's political leanings because they goddamn tell you. But not everybody broadcasts their beliefs via shouted slogans and bumper stickers.
Some of us prefer to start loud political arguments in the middle of crowded restaurants.
Fortunately, it turns out that there are subtle clues that indicate if a person is liberal or conservative -- you just have to know what to look for.
How? Tell Me!
And by "look" we literally mean "look," because eye contact is a great indicator of political beliefs.
The enlarged cornea means this person is extremely concerned with the deficit.
Researchers have found that, during conversations, left-leaning people were more likely to follow the other person's "eye cues" than conservatives. Let's say you are having a conversation with someone and you suddenly take your gaze off them to look at something slightly to the right, say a cute person or a passing zebra. Liberals are more likely to follow your gaze and look as well, even if what you are looking at has no bearing on the conversation. If you look away again, they will follow your gaze again, and so on and so on, like two little puppies distracted by shiny passing balloons.
Statistically speaking, about half of you just glanced up at the ceiling.
Conservatives are almost never going to follow your gaze, but will continue looking straight at you, like robots. Those conducting the study speculated that conservatives held their gaze because, no lie, they don't like being told what to do.
"I reflexively reject the opinions of others and I have no idea why."
Use Someone's Facial Symmetry to Predict Their Wealth and Leadership Potential
As science is fond of reminding us, symmetrical faces are to heads what sculpted abs and perfect boobs are to torsos. They're the ultimate in beauty, leaving us asymmetrical slobs (meaning pretty much everyone) to tread yellow water at the ugly end of the pool.
And of course it gets even worse: Not content with just looking better than the vast, asymmetrical majority, you now know that the next time you see a Symmetrical (screw it, we're just going to call them that from now on), they're also probably richer than you.
"I could buy and sell your puny town a hundred times over!"
On the other hand, the weird-looking dude you run into is the one you want leading you into war -- his leadership skills tend to be better.
How? Tell Me!
While a good gene pool certainly helps, throwing boxcars in the genetic crapshoot is only the beginning of the road to facial symmetry. The really important part comes in the form of your conditions of development. When everything -- including tobacco smoke, childhood nutrition, socioeconomic status, and illnesses -- can shape the way your face looks for the worse, your best bet for a mug that doesn't break mirrors is plain and simple: wealthy parents.
"Here you go, kid -- easy mode!"
Don't blame us, we've got the research to back it up: People with symmetrical faces generally have privileged childhoods, and therefore stand a greater chance of being wealthy themselves. Yes, even without going under the knife, the easiest road to beauty remains a well-endowed bank account.
But let's say they grew up underprivileged and end up with one of those plain, ordinary asymmetrical mugs. They have neither trust funds nor a perfect smile to rely on -- it's their guts and personality that matter now. What's more, just because they're not as pretty as those Symmetrical dicks, people expect them to do worse in life.
That, incidentally, is what makes them the most effective leaders there are.
"I've seen some shit. And now I mean to run it."
Yep, the never-ending stream of tiny struggles that a symmetrically featured person will never face thanks to his angelic looks and padded wallet is custom made to turn a person's asymmetrical melon into a bona fide, super-effective leader, scientifically giving him an easy 20 percent edge as opposed to groups under Symmetrical leadership. Of course, having an asymmetrical face doesn't mean that somebody is automatically a Winston Churchill. It just means that they have the tools to become one. So the dude at the bar with the burns down one side of his face -- don't immediately put him in charge of your multinational corporation.
Body Language Can Hack Your Bartender's Mind
Retain Information by Spacing Out the Reminders
The hell of trying to learn anything is that time randomly wipes important information you've committed to memory -- you can't remember the Pythagorean theorem, but you remember the base stats of 649 Pokemon. This is why so many of us wind up cramming at the last minute for exams -- it's not just procrastination, it's fear that if we study a month ahead of time, we'll forget part of it by exam day. So our only answer is to cram everything into our short-term memory, knowing that we'll lose it right after the test. A hundred grand in tuition well spent!
No, what we need is a way to retain information for the long haul, without doing a lot of work. In other words, we need a scientific method to arrive at the exact minimum amount of time and energy we need to successfully retain important information.
"Much better: 15 seconds to remember that I need to change the batteries in my stopwatch."
How? Tell Me!
There is a measurable process by which your brain drops information, a "forgetting curve." If you want information to stick, there's a specific hack you can do to work around it. It takes a bit more practice than the memory palace thing above, but if your job or degree depends on it, it's worth it. Basically, it's a matter of figuring out the rate at which your brain forgets things and adapting to it. They call it spaced repetition, and here's an animated gif showing off the simplest form:
There you go. You are now a memory master.
So let's say you're trying to learn Spanish, and you're going to have a big final on it in four months. The most rudimentary way to practice spaced repetition is to put the words you need to learn on note cards with the English on the front and the Spanish on the back (flash cards, basically) and get three boxes (or create three piles, if you don't have any boxes sitting around) marked:
1. Every Day
2. Every Week
3. Once a Month
The labels tell you how often you're going to look at the flash cards. "What?" you say, "I don't got time to be studying this shit every day! Besides, I know I can hold this stuff in my brain longer than that!" Right, you probably can. This method will tell you exactly how long. That's the point: to arrive at the exact bare minimum amount of time you need to study.
"Well, maybe we can make an exception just this time and study for a couple more hours."
So, the first time you study, yes, you drill yourself with all of the flash cards. The ones you get right you promote to the Every Week pile. Ones you get wrong go in the Every Day pile. The next day you try it again, but now you've got a smaller pile. The next day, it will be smaller still. A week later, you'll try the Every Week pile again, and the ones you get right you stuff into the Once a Month pile. You're just filtering this shit right on down the line, giving yourself less and less to do.
A month later, you go through the Once a Month pile to make sure you remember it. The stuff you've forgotten goes into the weekly rotation again. See what you're doing? You're figuring out the exact rate at which this stuff falls out of your brain. Breezing through that monthly box? Great, make it every two months. The spans of time are flexible (conversely, if you have an exam or presentation in two weeks, you can shorten the whole process -- make your three piles Daily, Every Other Day, Every Three Days).
If that still sounds too complicated, a Polish psychologist named Piotr Wozniak created computer software that does it for you:
Charts are scientists' way of smugly yelling "suck it" at you.
That's just an example graph; yours will be different. But yes, it works. Wozniak actually conducted an experiment on himself by memorizing thousands of nonsensical syllables ... and found that he could repeat the list three years later. So when you're walking around the city and you see filthy people mumbling nonsense syllables to themselves all day, this is probably what they're doing. Ask them about it!
Music Can Boost Your Immune System
It may come as no surprise to all the Cracked readers who are also neuroscientists that music helps boost your immune system. For the rest of you, word is that intangible plinking noises can create a noticeable increase in recovery from a wide range of conditions, including heart disease, lung ailments and even the common cold. While the field of study is still young compared to fancy "real medicine" like "pharmaceuticals" and "penis phrenology" it turns out that sometimes all you need to overcome your horribly debilitating illness is AC/DC.
How Does It Work?
Music, like Jurassic Park's raptors, doesn't just attack from one side. That shit brings out a multi-pronged assault. To start, music reduces stress by reducing cortisol levels, a chemical in your brain that causes you to feel stress in the first place. Jazz, bluegrass and soft rock have been found to be especially effective at reducing stress and increasing health because of their similar musical qualities (that quality being that you don't listen to any of them).
If you're wondering if your favorite music is helping your health, a good question to ask is, "Does this music make me want to riot?" If you answered yes, it's not an optimal medicine. Likewise, if your favorite musician's last name is Cyrus you're probably dooming yourself to a life of erectile dysfunction and diabetes.
In addition to simply lowering stress levels, music also raises immune markers in your system, creating more antibodies to fight disease. Ironically, listening to Amy Winehouse could make you immune to all the potential diseases you'd be exposed to if you met Amy Winehouse. This effect is compounding: Over time, the body can learn to recognize certain types of music (particularly choir or classical music) as immune boosting, continuing the improvement of the immune system. As an added bonus, if you listen to choir music on a regular basis you're almost guaranteed to be immune to STDs as the odds of you ever having sex are quite slim.
Repetition Doesn't Work for Reading, but It Does for Exam Questions
Rereading your notes does not count as studying, even if it is the easiest way to technically study while watching Mad Men. Also, you're ruining Mad Men. Watch Mad Men, and then set aside time to actually engage with the material. If you're in science or engineering, do problems. If you're in history, write out key elements of a period in a paragraph, or try to teach the chapters you've read to your lazy roommate who didn't read them, and have him try to teach you the ones he read.
If you're in English lit, put down the play you already read, and write a one page essay discussing how Hamlet was the greatest pussy of all time. Do something, anything, which tests your knowledge or makes you actually think, then use your notes to find out what you'd forgotten. Then do the problem again. Instead of sitting and reconfirming, "Yep, I sure can read this language all right!"
You've surely earned a B.A. in Cracked Appreciation by now.
Repetition is a dumb idea when it comes to reading, but it's the only real way to prepare for an exam. Every year millions of students do their first exam-style problem in the exam hall, and if there's one thing we learned from college it's that the first time you do anything important, you suck at it. Even if you suck at it.
"I wish he'd study a little harder. And not fall asleep during the first question."
Odds are your course wasn't created this term. They've been asking the same questions for years, and the only reason they even pretend to change the wording is because they'll lose their accreditation if they don't. Exam banks, older students, just Googling your course code and the word "exam," there's no excuse for not practicing what you actually have to do. Many students think of preparing for exams like Dragon Ball Z: You focus and concentrate all sorts of power with endless text for weeks, then fire it all out in one perfect blast. But exams are just like everything else. You get good at things by doing them as many times as possible. Which is also most students' real plan in college anyway.
Hack Your Feet With Conflicting Motions
Your Sense of Touch Hacks Your Brain
Of our five senses, the one we pay the least attention to, and science studies the least, is touch. Yet recent experiments indicate that we may be vastly underrating the first sense we develop. Everything from the feel of the chair you sit on to what you're holding can influence your behavior and the decisions you make.
Imagine yourself touching this. You'll be kinder in the comments.
Over a series of studies, scientists found that they could easily manipulate people's feelings and perceptions based on nothing more than what the subjects were touching. Holding heavier objects, for instance, made men think more seriously about things, which in turn made them more likely to donate money to charity if asked. Men holding lighter objects were less likely to donate to charitable causes. People handling rough objects were more likely to see neutral social situations in a bad light, saying that other people were obviously in a bad mood. That means that the answer to arguably the most frequently asked question over the course of human history -- "What the fuck is your problem?" -- might be as simple as "The tag on this new underwear is digging into my ass."
He killed millions. But in his defense, that shirt looks wicked itchy.
Perhaps the most shocking find was that your hands didn't have to be the things doing the touching. People who sat in hard chairs were more likely to maintain a hard line in negotiations and were less receptive to their partner's way of thinking. So watch out for that next time you try to convince your boss you need a raise. If instead of a chair she offers you a pile of ducklings to sit on, you're basically screwed. After all, to be truly effective, ass kissing probably needs to be taken in new, horrifically literal directions.
Music Changes Your Drinking Habits
Did you ever wake up in the back of a taxi after a long night of tossing down cognac and prune juice and wonder how your pants got replaced by a thick but clumsily applied coat of colorful body paint? Well, now there's something to blame it on besides your bad childhood: music.
What they play in the bar doesn't just affect how much you drink, but what you drink.
Nothing goes with Lady Gaga like cheap, awful tequila.
How Does It Work?
Did you know you can make a person buy more expensive wine just by playing classical music? Experiments prove it. It makes people feel like they're in a wine commercial or in a movie depicting refined, snooty rich people. OK, that one sort of makes sense -- we doubt anyone ever drank Wild Irish Rose while listening to Vivaldi.
But in another blind study, different types of music playing in the background caused drinkers to change how they'd described the drinks they already had. Laid-back music led people to rate drinks as "mellow," and upbeat music resulted in more people calling their drinks "refreshing." Even stranger, in another study researchers placed German and French wines in supermarkets, with small flags next to each display so customers could tell which countries they came from. They then played some unobtrusive international music in the background. When German music was played, the percentage of German sales rose, and vice versa.
Listening to this would inspire us to drink, too.
This wasn't because customers thought to themselves, Ah! Germany! I will celebrate the Fatherland with some nice wine! Questionnaires showed that customers couldn't recall what type of music was playing and thought they'd chosen a particular wine simply because they'd felt like it.
The people selling you the drinks know all of this stuff -- or at least, the successful ones do. We've pointed out before that bars and nightclubs often play fast music to increase alcohol-based profit. But other establishments, particularly upscale restaurants, prefer slow, relaxing music, which, believe it or not, can also make you drink more. The tempo of music is linked to your body's arousal level, or the "speed" at which your nervous system operates. Fast music heightens arousal (heh), so patrons will do everything more quickly, including eating and drinking and leaving their infant by the salad bar. Which is good for a restaurant owner if he's just concerned with getting you out the door so he can serve more (and presumably better) people.
"Here's the check. You have exactly seven minutes to fuck off."
On the other hand, slower music means that you eat at a more leisurely pace. Maybe you'll even stay to chat with your companions after you're done with your meal. All this time passing means you're likely to buy more drinks every time the waiter comes around to ask, and at a restaurant that's charging $70 a bottle, that makes up for any lost table space.
Some restaurants go as far as to purchase a personalized selection of songs specially designed by "sound branding" companies, which select songs based on whatever tempo or atmosphere the restaurant is aiming to achieve.
Italian goes down better with GWAR.
Write Things to Remember Them (Even if You Don't Read Them Later)
Quick! When was the last time you held a pen and wrote something? It was probably while signing a receipt, wasn't it? A note you left on the parked car you dinged at the mall? Child support checks? In this age of smartphones, constant texting, and spending half our waking hours online, most of us have lost the gentle art of holding a pencil and scratching out ransom notes the old-fashioned way. Which is too bad, because if you want information to stick in your brain, you need to write that shit out by hand.
"Punching babies is wrong. Punching babies is wrong. Punching babies is wrong."
How? Tell Me!
The act of handwriting actually engages neural activity that you don't get by hammering on a keyboard. During an experiment at Indiana University, preschool kids who were learning the alphabet were separated into two groups. The first group was shown letters and told what they were, while the second group had the additional task of practicing writing the letters. When the kids were put into a "spaceship" (an MRI machine), the brains from the writing group lit up like somebody had crammed a road flare into their ears. Their neural activity not only was more enhanced, it was more "adult-like," which we presume means they later asked researchers to check their cholesterol levels while they were there.
"I'm sorry, but you only have two weeks to live. Hahaha! Just a little joke we like to tell the kids."
In other words, it seems to be the same principle as the memory palace thing above -- forcing another part of your brain into the action to help out with memorization. We invented keyboards because typing is way easier and faster than writing, but making it faster means we're losing handwriting's unique ability to imprint information in our brain. So those flash cards we had you make above? Get a pen and write that shit out instead of printing it off your computer. Watch your score improve.
A 2008 study proved that this works especially well when you're doing something that involves learning unfamiliar characters, like some computer languages, or sheet music, or Japanese. Again, making your fingers draw out the shape engages a completely different part of your brain than if you're just staring at it on a screen and saying, "Remember this, goddamnit!"
"And don't you even think about getting up until you know astrophysics."
Looking at an Apple Logo Makes You Think Differently
There's nothing magical about the logo itself, and even Apple fans wouldn't claim that their devices have mystical brain-boosting powers. But, for about 30 straight years, Apple has been marketing their products as the tools of eccentric, outside-the-box thinkers (people who "think different," in fact). And advertising works. So today, if you mentally picture a bunch of artsy eccentric types working in a room, you're not picturing them with a bunch of Dells. You're picturing a room full of glowing white Apple silhouettes. You just can't help but make that association.
"Bow down and worship your ... creative ... creator? Crap, I'm looking at the wrong side, hold on."
So, according to a paper from the Journal of Consumer Research, one way to keep your nonlinear-thinking muscles well-oiled and flexing like the cast of Predator might be to simply look at the Apple logo. Fortunately, odds are there's one within your field of vision this very moment. Otherwise you may need to head to a coffee shop to get this one to work.
The study itself was originally based on the idea that people assign specific human traits to various corporate logos -- the McDonald's "M" seems warm and friendly, the Walmart brand is cold and impassive. All of this is based on how we view these companies in the culture, due to their relentless ad campaigns, or whatever other reason. So the researchers found that when people are "primed" with certain logos, it puts them in a certain frame of mind. And in the case of Apple, test subjects experienced an increase in both creativity and ingenuity just from being exposed to the company's half-eaten-fruit bannerman.
"What about a stick-shaped pinata? You could use it to hit other pinatas and get double the candy!"
The research was conducted with 341 university students split into two groups, with one group being shown a series of subliminal Apple logos and the other being shown the logo for IBM. Each group was then tasked with listing as many unusual uses for a brick as they could think of, because if you're going to test a person's ingenuity, you might as well give them an object with precisely one non-bludgeoning function.
Sure enough, the study found that the Apple group was able to come up with more uses for the brick than the IBM group, all because of the feelings of technomancing discovery the Apple logo had instilled within them. So if your boss happens to walk by your desk and see you staring intently at your iPhone, you can tell him or her that you are busy stoking the roaring fires of innovation without a shred of irony.
"You can thank me later. Now get out of my office -- you're hindering my work, mortal."
Trick Your Own Eyes by Burning Out Colors
Working at the Worst Time of Day With the Worst People Makes You Smarter
When it comes to solving problems, we like to think we know how to get the best results out of ourselves. We know if we're morning people or not, and the types of people we work well with. When we're in college, we choose our class schedules around the time of day our brains work best, and pick out our own study groups based on the unique blend of introverts, extroverts, and Asians that we know will complement us best. In the professional world, the more success you achieve, the more freedom you get to choose who you work with and when.
Well, science is here to do what science does best and tell us that we're doing it all wrong. As we've covered briefly before, you are actually way better at solving problems that require creativity and insight if you work on them during the time of day when you think you're at your worst. When you're telling everyone not to bother talking to you until you've had another cup of coffee, it turns out your mind is at its most brilliant.
"4 p.m. already? Just give me a little more time -- I can't do anything at all before six."
In one study, morning people actually performed better at problem-solving when they were brought into the lab at night, whereas night people scored better during the morning sessions.
"Wait, pickles with hamburgers stuffed in the middle!"
We're also pretty bad at judging how well we're working within a group -- studies found that people were worse at solving problems in groups with those that they felt most comfortable. Even weirder, the groups that had a merry old time fucking up the problem they were supposed to be solving had no idea. According to the study, "The teams that felt they worked least effectively together were ironically the top performers."
This flies in the face of everything we believe about how things get accomplished. We think that great teams work extraordinarily well together and experience success, and the good times keep on rolling. Whenever a great band, team, or company looks back on the time they were kicking the world's ass, they usually describe it as magic. It turns out there's a reason they don't describe it as fun.
Which is going to make reading the eventual post-breakup interviews with members of fun. confusing as shit.
Think about the Beatles. They were the most famous rock band of all time, they had an almost supernatural ability to write music that would make them more famous, and they couldn't last a decade. With hundreds of millions of dollars and unprecedented fame hanging in the balance, they called it quits faster than most failed marriages. If you prefer less artsy examples, keep in mind that Michael Jordan punched Steve Kerr in the face in practice the year they set a record for wins in a single season.
Being with your friends in a comfortable social setting is a great way to make yourself terrible at solving problems. It's the same as the morning people doing their best work at night. Your well-rested, socially comfortable brain is pretty good at thinking inside the box -- accessing that sensible place that appreciates old jokes and rejects ideas that seem too "weird." But if you have to solve a truly difficult problem, you're better off at 4 a.m. on your third slice of cold pizza with a room full of people wondering what it will take to get John Lennon to stop being such a dick.
"Imagine you're not a douche."
"It's too hard, I won't try."
That's when you decide that you might as well chase whatever off-the-wall notion pops into your head, regardless of how tap-dancingly ridiculous it may appear. You start following those threads to their conclusion, until boom, you suddenly have a great idea that would never have occurred to you if you were operating during your optimal work hours with the people you like hanging out with, because your brain's anti-nonsense detectors would've been too strong.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid ... WHIP GUN!"
Get the Satisfaction of Shopping Without Spending Money
This holiday season, like every one before it, will feature multiple stories of a stampede at a department store that was featuring "door buster" sales the morning after Thanksgiving. Hundreds of crazy people line up in the predawn hours, not to buy something rare or even valuable, but just the same shit they could have bought the day before. The act of shopping itself, the high they get from it, is what's they're there for. And stores take advantage by turning it into an adrenaline-charged event.
We love to mock people like this, the rabid shoppers and women addicted to buying shoes, but let us ask you guys something: do you play video games? Tell us you don't have multiple games in your collection that you've bought but never played. Surveys show more than 10 percent of you have games you never even took out of the shrink wrap. There are entire websites devoted to helping gamers work through their backlog of purchased but unplayed games. Why? Because gamers simply like buying games, often more than actually playing them.
And they like bitching about games on the Internet most of all.
Look around your place. How many of your DVDs have you actually watched? Do you own that 19-season Simpsons box set? Are you actually going to sit down and watch all 110 discs, or did it just seem like a cool thing to buy, for the sake of buying it?
Why It Works:
Dopamine. Sweet, sweet dopamine. This is the stuff your brain produces in response to sex, recreational drugs, or a really good cheeseburger. It serves all kinds of functions related to behavior, cognition, movement, and other important things like keeping the drool inside your mouth and lactating. Can't forget lactating.
More importantly, dopamine is also the gatekeeper to rewards and punishments, a system it uses to motivate us to, among other things, explore, learn and acquire new stuff.
So not only does shopping satisfy the "new stuff" need but research shows the feeling intensifies when you visit a new store or go out of town -- for example, shoppers are more likely to buy something expensive and stupid when they're on vacation. Not for the expensive and stupid thing, remember, but for our dark master, dopamine.
Otherwise known as "the only reason life isn't constantly horrible".
There is a way to beat the system; it's actually the anticipation of the purchase that gives you the fix, not the purchase itself (although simple window shopping isn't enough). Monitor the finer points of the return policies at every store like a corporate lawyer, and you can beat the system: all of the satisfaction of an actual shopping binge without any of the junk you never use.
Make Hand Gestures to Better Visualize Your Problems
The connection between abstract thinking and hand motions is both weird and pervasive -- we have previously mentioned that scientists found that you could improve your memory by associating a hand gesture with the thing you're memorizing and that public speakers use hand gestures to trick you into agreeing with them. And sure enough, according to a study published in Psychological Science in 2011, making small physical gestures with both of your hands can help increase your creative thinking.
We're not suggesting that you start juggling bean bags or doing card tricks at your desk (although that would make you irresistible to your co-workers), but the mere act of using your hands to represent different aspects of a problem can help your mind separate and organize ideas. It's the difference between merely describing how you'd, say, perform a chokehold on a victim, versus actually getting up and demonstrating it. It just helps you visualize the idea -- and the more complex the idea, the more help you need visualizing it.
"Oh, wait, I get it. You're chopping mattress prices in half because you're insane!"
And it helps to use both hands -- the above study examined a group of people who were presented with a series of common objects and asked to come up with unusual new ways the objects could be put to use, such as using a coin as a makeshift flat head screwdriver or, say, turning a bra into a slingshot. Some people were instructed to make gestures with both hands while they came up with their answers, whereas the others were told to use only one.
The group that made dual-handed gestures provided the most inventive responses, which makes sense when you consider that there are only so many gestures you can make with a single hand. But it's surprising that limiting the ability to gesture actually prevented the rest from coming up with ideas ... and that you might be stifling your brain by sitting there with your left hand on your chin and your right on the mouse.
"OK, now what do I do with this glowy screen thing again? Do I eat it? Yeah, that sounds right."
Control Anger by Using Your Less-Dominant Hand
Everyone knows at least one guy who hulks out over the stupidest things -- a messed-up coffee order, a red light, global warming. Usually these people are just harmless joke fodder until they road rage on an elderly person over a politically charged bumper sticker. If you don't know one of these people, consider that it might be you.
Of course, there are all these tricks that your mom taught you that are supposed to calm you down ("Stop and count to 10!"), which of course don't work because in the moment you're enraged, you can't think logically anyway. What you need is to beef up your anger defenses before it gets to that point.
"Somebody stop me before I rob a sperm bank and make this town disgusting."
How? Tell Me?
This one comes from the University of New South Wales, who found the perfect anger-management trick, and it wasn't cool jazz music or playful kittens wearing sunglasses. People who had anger issues were asked to spend two weeks using their non-dominant hand for anything that wouldn't endanger anyone: opening and slamming doors, writing hate mail, pouring coffee, and other dirty activities that are now crossing your mind. After two weeks, the subjects could control their temper tantrums better, even when other participants deliberately insulted them to get a reaction.
Why would this possibly work? Well, looking at angry people under brain scans shows that outbursts are less about too much anger and more about depleted self-control. That's both good news and bad news. The bad news is that self-control is a finite thing, and you can run out of it. The good news is that it's a physical mechanism of how your brain works, and you can strengthen it (or hack it into working better).
"Fudge you, mother lover!"
Now, you'd assume that the only way to do that would be some kind of meditation or long classes in anger management. Or maybe to pay somebody to make an annoying noise in your ear for hours at a time and slowly decreasing the frequency with which you punch them in the head. But it turns out it doesn't take anything like that -- just asking these people to use their clumsy hand to do everyday tasks forced them to deal with hundreds of tiny, totally manageable moments of frustration. But that was enough to make them somewhat immune to it.
So, when things got ugly, suddenly they found that the walls around their internal anger demon were stronger. And it's probably also calming to know that if things get so bad that a gunfight breaks out, you're now capable of dual-wielding that shit.
"Oh, hey, you are totally correct. The grass is indeed purple. My mistake."
Your Name Determines What You Buy and Do, and You Need to Know
Let's say you live in Milwaukee. Look up how many people named Mildred live in the city. Chances are you'll find an overrepresentation. Statistically speaking, the same thing is likely to happen with Jacks in Jacksonville, Virgils in Virginia, and Freds in Fresno. Why? It appears that people move to places similar to their own names. And if you think that's stupid, science shows that it's just the beginning.
It's called the name-letter effect, and it can subtly influence everything in your life.
"Ahmed Robberty, why do you keep doing this?"
For instance, your name also affects your political stance by subtly altering your voting behavior: In the 2000 election, people whose last names started with a B were more likely to vote for Bush, while Al Gore profited from the G people. But that's just all those misinformed yokels who vote in elections, right? Aren't half those people just flipping a coin anyway? Well, you find it among investors on Wall Street, too -- the name-letter effect scoffs at your puny efforts to look into actual profitability, gently nudging you toward companies that sound similar to your name (like if your name is Michel, you're more likely to purchase Michelin).
"I don't know about this, Stealy Dan."
Looking for a job? The company you prefer might just share initials with you, and the first letter of your name can determine your career path. There is a statistical overabundance of dentists whose first names start with D and lawyers with names like Larry and Laura. What the hell? Are people just ... stupid?
The theory is that this is all because our brains are selfish dicks that think the bits of the alphabet that start up our names are somehow better letters. Some psychologists believe it's linked to a phenomenon called implicit egotism: We respond more favorably to anything that reminds us of ourselves. No matter how illogical and arbitrary.
Chuck Dickerson and his collection of Charlie Daniels CDs.
Someone's Hands and Hair Give Clues to Their Sexuality
Contrary to what 1980s sex comedies taught you, coming out of the closet as gay doesn't automatically give one a raging case of flamboyant. Nor does it guarantee that you're going to wear an ascot at all times or punctuate every sentence with "girlfriend" or a sassy "mmmm hmmm." So, if you're a person who really needs to know the sexuality of the strangers you run into, figuring it out usually isn't as easy as a quick once-over. But you can get a pretty good idea.
If he performs his own manicures, he probably isn't all that into vagina.
How? Tell Me!
Look at their hands and hair.
We've previously mentioned one indicator of likely homosexuality -- the digit ratio theory. It suggests that the proportion of the length of your ring finger to your index finger is influenced by the amount of testosterone you were exposed to in the womb. Which is why men and women usually have totally different finger ratios; most men have longer ring fingers than pointer fingers, and most women's pointers and ring fingers are pretty close to the same length.
But what if all of your fingers are ring fingers?
So there are some studies that suggest a reversal of the typical male/female finger lengths is one good indicator of sexuality. In other words, if a guy's index fingers and ring fingers are pretty much the same size, he might be gay. Or if a lady's ring finger is a lot longer than her pointer, she might be gay. Though, good luck taking those measurements without pretending to be a gypsy fortune teller.
Here's an easier one: see which hand they write with. Studies have suggested that homosexuals of both genders are 50 percent more likely to be left-handed than heterosexuals.
"So that's why she didn't respond to my advances."
Lastly, look at their hair. Specifically, look at the direction in which their hair spirals. A study of the hair whorls of 50 gay men showed that 23 percent had a counterclockwise whorl, as opposed to the much more common clockwise whorl. Among the total population, only around eight percent have counterclockwise whorls. Though, once again, we'd love to hear what cover story you come up with to explain to the dude why you're running your fingers through his hair and studying how it lays. Maybe tell him you found a tick or something.
Living your entire life on stilts might also work.
Size Matters (for Pain Management)
Boost Your Immune System (by Looking at Pictures)
Getting sick is something you wouldn't think you have much control over beyond the obvious things (eat healthy, wash your hands, etc.). But damn it, this article isn't about the obvious shit. This is about weird hacks that let you trick your system into working better. And if you want to beef up your immune system, find some pictures of disease.
There, we just prevented your next case of beardonitis.
How? Tell Me!
Your brain manages everything, including your immune system. And we already know that seeing certain images can trigger physical responses in the body -- some pictures make us salivate, while others do downtown business on our private parts (boners). Well, when you see sick people, your body beefs up its defenses.
Scientists from the University of British Columbia showed students a 10-minute slideshow of sick people to measure their immune system's responses. So for 10 solid minutes, test subjects looked at images of people with rashes, bad coughs, and those weird booster shot scars you see on the middle-aged. What they discovered was that after the sick reel, the participants' white blood cells went into overdrive and began to produce interleukin-6 (IL-6), the same kind of protein a body would produce to fight off infection or combat burns.
"It says you're a piece of shit. Hmm. I don't need technology to show me that."
And if you're wondering if the triggered immune system was just a general response to stress, the answer is not really. While the participants certainly weren't held at gunpoint, there was a group who got the opportunity to look at pictures of people pointing guns at them, which netted a negligible 6 percent increase in IL-6. Looking at sickies, on the other hand, resulted in a 23 percent increase.
From an evolutionary standpoint, this sort of makes sense -- if you see your cave brothers and sisters spilling their guts all over the place or falling victim to the prehistoric flu, your body has to work a little harder to avoid catching the same illness and dropping dead. So your doctor is kind of screwing you by filling the waiting room with pictures of calming landscapes and clowns. If he or she wanted to beef up your defenses, the walls would be full of oozing sores.
"In lieu of antibiotics, I'd like you to stare at my measles scars for a full minute."
Singing Stops You From Psyching Yourself Out
Yes, singing. But to understand why it works you have to know something about the phenomenon we call "choking."
It happens to pro athletes in every sport, from the 1993 Houston Oilers (who famously blew a 35-3 lead in the playoffs) to figure skater Michelle Kwan in the Olympics. But why does it happen? An amateur fucking up is one thing, but a professional who has done nothing but train his/her entire life?
Validates our laziness?
Well, it turns out they are actually more likely to choke, and choke harder than any of us.
Basically, once you get the mechanics of a sport honed and perfected, it's best to just let it happen. Choking occurs when people who know better start thinking too hard about what they need to do. The added pressure forces your brain into a state called "paralysis by analysis" where the "working memory" part of your brain literally stops working, and the more talented you are the more working memory you have meaning the harder the failure.
But it turns out that the solution to all of it can be as simple as singing.
How? Tell Me!
Research indicates that doing anything that your brain also controls (singing or humming) preoccupies your mind from the task at hand and will keep those pathways from becoming over active. This in turn keeps your working memory from shutting down and prevents you from choking. It's essentially just distracting your conscious mind long enough that your muscle memory can finish the job.
This man's catchy tunes could save your life.
Golfers consistently use a variation of this strategy to avoid psyching themselves out. They will count down from 10 while putting to keep their mind from over analyzing the situation. You probably participated in group song that time you served on the chain gang. Regardless of the activity, as long as you don't mind mouthing lyrics on the free-throw line or humming at the plate then it turns out providing your own soundtrack can actually help your game.
We hate it as much as you do when Glee ends up being right.
Analyzing Your Thoughts Too Hard Can Change Your Opinions for the Worse
So you might read all of this and say, "See, this is why it's important to logically think through all of our opinions! It's because we make these dumb knee-jerk choices that we're so easy to manipulate."
OK, what if we told you that in many cases, thinking longer about a decision actually makes you more wrong?
"Hmmm. Maybe it was an inside job."
Have you ever gotten talked out of liking something? Maybe you saw The Dark Knight Rises in the theater and had a great time, but the next day you started talking to your movie connoisseur friends and they pointed out all of the plot holes ("When did Batman have time to paint his logo on the bridge?!"). Over time, it gets to where you can't even admit to yourself that you enjoyed it. Even when you think back to your experience in the theater, all you're thinking about is the plot holes.
You might convince yourself that thinking about the subject led you to the "right" opinion, but studies show that you can just as easily be steered from a correct opinion to a wrong one.
"After further consideration, I've decided that I will have sex with the vacuum cleaner."
Researchers tested this with a couple of experiments where subjects were asked to offer an opinion on things like which college course they preferred or which brand of jam tasted better. The catch was that some of the participants were asked to simply taste or sample the thing and move on, while others were asked to really think about their decision before making it official. The subjects who mulled over their opinions were way less in line with the opinions of experts than the others. The more they thought about it, the more wrong they became. How is this possible?
Well, when you're forced to think through or express why you like something, you're immediately biased toward opinions that you can actually explain or verbalize. In other words, you may taste five jams and decide that No. 4 just tasted better, because in that moment your senses were taking in a thousand different factors you weren't consciously thinking about. But when pressured to actually explain in detail which one you liked best, you're looking for easily quantifiable things -- suddenly you're talking about how No. 2 had more berries, or how No. 1 had better color. In reality, neither of those things actually affected your enjoyment. You're just trying to make it sound like you made your decision based on an easily explainable chain of logic when in reality your tongue had it right all along.
"Which one had the heroin in it, again? Because that one is definitely the best."
It's kind of like the example with the movie (if you hated The Dark Knight Rises, feel free to substitute any movie you changed your opinion on months later). While you were watching it, the sum of all of its parts may have swept you away, but if somebody made you create a list of pros and cons, you'd realize that you can't logically defend your choice. Or maybe you had a relationship with someone who you thought you were madly in love with, but a hundred conversations with friends changed your mind ("Yeah, I guess he did wear a lot of holiday-themed sweaters ...").
When forced to stick with qualities that are simpler and easier to discuss, suddenly the spell is broken. Congratulations, you have successfully used logic to kill your own enjoyment of something. Thanks a lot, brain.
Music Makes You a Better Communicator
How does a narcissistic ass like John Mayer, who isn't even that attractive, still have hot women of all ages throwing themselves at him? It's the guitar, isn't it?
Acoustic guitars: Getting douchebags laid since 1100 C.E.
Actually, a trained musician like Mayer would probably be able to talk a woman into his bed without ever even playing a note. It turns out that studying music gives you an advantage when it comes to perceiving the emotions of others, so all those years of being chained to a piano as a child are finally going to work in your favor.
You'll have to find something else to resent your mother over.
People who can play instruments at near-professional level can detect subtle emotional changes and intonations in the vocal tones of others. In other words, they know whether you are actually sad when you say you're fine, even when most non-musicians would have no idea. Not only that, but the fact that they studied music makes them better able to tune out background noise, so they are even better at paying attention to what you are saying in that crowded restaurant or bar.
How Does It Work?
Research shows that people who have studied music actually have brains wired differently than non-musicians. This rewiring makes them better able to express emotions they are feeling, but it also makes them more able to understand the emotions others express. Music is very emotional, and people wired to understand those subtle emotional changes can also detect them in the vocal tones of someone talking. The emotion of the music translates to knowing when your boss is secretly mad or your mother is secretly disappointed.
Let's be honest -- her disappointment has never been a secret.
The sooner you start learning music, the more pronounced this re-wiring is. Scientists think that teaching children music might help kids with autism better understand vocal cues and encode speech. The fact that this brain re-wiring helps them tune out background noise could also help kids stay focused in noisy classrooms. It is also something that gets better the more you play, so sticking to your piano lessons now could lead to a powerful advantage in your future dating world.
"I literally have a forest of vaginas waiting for me in my hotel room."
Mint Is a Smartdrug
Doodling With Smooth, Looping Lines Helps You Think
You've probably seen people who, when hunched over a notepad and trying to force an idea, will start lazily doodling smiley faces or spirals in the margins. It probably just looks like a sad physical manifestation of their boredom and/or lack of any useful ideas, but they may be jump-starting their brain. It's not just aimless doodling that does it -- the success depends on what they draw, according to researchers at Tufts and Stanford universities, who found that drawing "fluid" designs can help abstract thinking.
They gathered together 30 subjects and divided them into two groups -- one group was made to trace a bunch of jagged lines, while the other group drew a single elegant, looping strand.
They they were forced to eat them.
Following the tracing session (but presumably before snacks and nap time), each group was given a creative-thinking task. For instance, they were given a set of "exemplars," which are words that exemplify certain categories -- "triceratops" would be a strong exemplar of the category "dinosaurs," but not so much of the category "college football coaches." The researchers then asked the groups to assign each exemplar to a category, and found that the group that had engaged in fluid movement prior to the task (drawing the looping line) was linking weak exemplars to completely unrelated categories, such as insisting that "camels" are an acceptable example of "vehicles."
"The only way over that ridge is to ramp it. Where's your nitrous switch?"
The point is, the group that was coming up with the most abstract and inventive answers was the one that had done the drawing with the most fluid, uninterrupted movements. The other group did the bare minimum, providing only boring and obvious answers until they were presumably asked to leave before further sabotaging everyone else's creativity.
The theory is that it's more about the hand motion than the drawings -- the brain likes fluid, continuous movements rather than abrupt, rapidly shifting ones full of right angles and sharp corners. Whether it's just more relaxing, or it somehow makes the brain more "fluid" in its thinking, it just seems to open up your creativity.
"I just solved the energy crisis with fish!"
Drinking Coffee Before a Nap Recharges Your Body
Imagine you're pulling an all-nighter trying to meet a deadline, or driving all night trying to figure out which warehouse the Joker stashed Harvey Dent in -- whatever the case, you're incredibly tired and sleep is not an option. Traditionally you'd either take a nap or have some coffee (or a urine-staining energy drink), but it's one or the other -- either try to get a quick nap, or power through on a chemical high.
But science, true to form, took these two seemingly contradictory options and decided to merge them together, like when WCW invaded the World Wrestling Federation. And it worked, and not in the order you'd expect.
How? Tell Me!
Researchers found that a cup of coffee followed by an immediate 15-minute nap is a notably more effective method of staying awake and alert for longer than either coffee or a nap alone. Which is a bit odd when you think about it, since you'd expect the caffeine to keep you awake, leaving you teetering on the edge of falling asleep but not quite going over (this is known in the scientific community as the Edward Norton-Brad Pitt boundary). But the trick to the "caffeine nap" is that caffeine doesn't act immediately -- it takes about 45 minutes to be completely ingested, but the effect of the drug kicks in after only 15 minutes.
Which is why we recommend injecting grizzly bear adrenaline into your first cup of the morning.
See, what caffeine actually does is block your brain's ability to respond to adenosine, a chemical that builds up in your bloodstream the longer you're awake. The more adenosine you have in your body, the more your brain tries to get you to sleep. So by drinking coffee (or soda or a nice can of BAWLS) and then diving directly into bed, you can sleep for 15 minutes and get the regular restorative effects of a nap. By the time you wake up, the caffeine you've ingested is swimming in your bloodstream and dulling the effects of adenosine, stabbing your tiredness in the face.
"Eat it, need for energy conservation!"
"Priming" Can Let You Play Human Beings Like Puppets
Quick: When's the last time you bought flowers at a grocery store? Never? Yet when you walk through the door at most grocery chains, what's the first thing you see? Here's what's right inside the door at Whole Foods:
And here's Kroger:
What the hell? These are grocery stores, people are there to buy food. Why would they lead off with a fringe product that 99 percent of the shoppers probably won't even look at? It has to do with the subtle science of mind control known as priming.
Yes, it is entirely possible to manipulate people into certain behaviors without them knowing it. We're not talking about subliminal suggestion, the disproven gimmick that claimed it could make people buy products by inserting hidden messages in movies. No, the real technique is priming, and it's as sinister as a windowless white van at a playground.
"It's goddamn tangerines and muesli again. That van guy is the worst."
The idea behind the flowers is that, as we've touched on elsewhere, hitting you with a product that is highly perishable yet fresh will "prime" you into thinking of freshness, and that you will carry that "freshness" mindset with you all the way back to the discount meat case. It sounds like bullshit -- humans don't connect completely unrelated ideas like that, right? Yet it's confirmed pretty much every time they test it.
Sometimes "priming" is as simple as finding that people will keep a room cleaner if it smells like disinfectant -- that subtle reminder is enough to make people think, "This is a clean room, I should keep it clean." But when you see how far they can take this, it gets weird.
"Can we try to keep the murder room confined to one area, please?"
In one study, scientists instructed volunteers to form sentences using words associated with old people, under the guise that it was a language proficiency test. So, one sentence could have been "The Depends were too elderly (in Florida.)" That's just an example we made up. So these hip, presumably liberal young college students were pumped with terms associated with the elderly, and guess what happened next?
No, they didn't hike up their pants to their nipples and start watching Jay Leno. But as they left the study, they walked slower than the students who were given neutral words earlier. The students primed to think of elderly stereotypes took on characteristics they associated with the elderly. Seriously, this happened. And you can get the same result in infinite ways; in another experiment, those who were primed with words conveying rudeness (like "aggressively," "bold," "rude," "bother," "disturb" and "intrude") interrupted the experimenter more frequently during a conversation after the tests.
They also found a clipboard embedded in their foreheads later on, but that was probably just a coincidence.
Wait, it gets stupider than that. In yet another study, researchers set up a devious experiment where students accidentally bumped into a klutz on the way to the session. Their bump partner held either a hot or a cold drink, which he or she asked the unknowing patsy to hold for a second while they collected their shit. When the students actually got to the study, they were asked to rate a hypothetical person's personality. The subjects who had held an iced tea earlier were more likely to call the fake persona "cold" or "selfish" than the students who held a cup of hot coffee. Some base association with cold and warmth at the subconscious level was enough to affect their conscious judgment.
"Hmm. I'd say the person was fuzzy and likely to consume their young."
The practical options here should be obvious. Ask people about their elderly relatives before robbing them and running away -- they'll be too slow to catch you! Pour hot water on an interviewer so they'll think you're a nicer person! The possibilities are as endless as you are cold, calculating, and utterly bereft of morals.
Beware Your Natural Biases (The Stores Know Them)
You step in the front door of your nearest chain grocery store. What's immediately to your right? At Walmart, Kroger, Whole Foods, and countless others, that's the fresh produce section. Some of them have their baked goods over there, too. And at those stores, the doors and registers are positioned to steer you that direction when you walk in.
This is the only sheep-based image we'll use this article. Promise.
This is because, after years of analysis of how humans move in a store, they've found that we're as easy to predict as animal migrations. Studies show that Americans like to shop counter-clockwise. Over time, they've found that stores that cater to this by putting the door on the right do better business than stores with the door in the center or, worst of all, the left.
Grocery stores are laid out to lead you around a set path you didn't even know you were following. Knowing you'll head right, they place the freshest, best-looking stuff they've got right in your path. Not the most popular stuff, mind you -- they know most of you didn't run to the store at midnight to buy lettuce, and they know that if they put the Doritos to the right, you'd grab them and head to the counter. Instead, they lead off with the produce, which tends to make the best psychological impression on you. The idea is that you'll associate the rest of the store with the freshness, bright colors and nice smells you got from the nicely laid-out produce.
"Boy, those fresh carrots sure did help me forget that everything in this aisle has been dead for weeks."
After they hit you with the brightly colored lemons, apples and oranges, they schedule your predictable counter-clockwise path so that different products show up at the exact time that will make you most likely to buy. The stuff you actually came for -- cola, chips, milk, eggs, sliced cheese, cookies -- doesn't show up until the end, once your cart is chock-full of stuff you didn't know you needed when you walked through the automatic doors.
And sweet lady Boxed Wine.
Remember, the goal is to keep you in the store as long as possible, and to make you pass as many shelves as possible. You can't buy the new nacho cheese flavored Hamburger Helper if you don't know it exists.
We know that rotational patterns like this are common in herd animals, like elephants, but nobody is quite sure why humans do it. Studies have shown that British, Australian, or Japanese shoppers tend to go the opposite way (clockwise) through the store, so some have speculated that it's based on the side of the road you're most used to driving on. If you drive on the right, you head right and follow the wall around.
But whatever causes the impulse, it's really strong. A store in Philadelphia wanted shoppers entering their store on the left, and to move clockwise. They forced customers to enter using the left entrance, only to see them immediately head to the right once inside. The managers then put down several pallets of goods in the way, thinking shoppers would just shrug and turn left and continue shopping. They were wrong. Customers struggled by the blockade to the right, shoving their carts through, demanding to move in a counterclockwise fashion, "as determined as salmon swimming upstream."
And our brains can be hacked by even something as simple as 'shininess'. A company called Envirosell Inc. (a marketing consultant that has worked for Walmart, the Gap, the U.S. Postal Service, and many others) did a study on this and found that pedestrians automatically slow down for a shiny storefront. We can't help it. The theory goes that early humans who had an eye for gleaming surfaces in the distance were able to pass on their genes, and today all of us get a little charge when we see light reflected on the surface of something.
Most people are too lazy to shop around for every little product, so sellers know that it's mostly up to them to frame for us what the price should be. In the biz they call this price anchoring. So you'll go to Best Buy and see a new TV that's 25 percent off of the "regular price," or MSRP. Then you Google around and find that what they're claiming is the "regular price" is in fact not the price, anywhere. You're saving 25 percent over an imaginary number.
It gets down to this: Ignore everything but the printed price. All the stuff they've got surrounding the price in big yellow letters punctuated by exclamation points is just a cunning ruse. That roll of paper towels was never worth $3.50; that's just a lie they're telling to make the $2.50 you pay go down easier.
Use Your Facial Expressions as Mood-Altering Drugs
Everyone knows that happiness makes you smile, anger makes you frown and louder-than-expected farts make you raise one eyebrow and point at the guy next to you. Well, scientists have found that our facial muscles are actually controlling your emotions more than you think. If that's not weird enough, Nicole Kidman's weird new face is indirectly responsible for the discovery.
Botox has been making women look sexier since the 1980s, assuming you're sexually attracted to smooth skin and people with awesome poker faces. See, in addition to firming up facial skin until wrinkles disappear, Botox also firms up everything else on your face, until people can't tell whether you're smiling warmly or weeping in terror. But hey, it's not like conveying emotion is your job or anything.
She's just a surprised as you are. You can see it in her eyes.
Well, according to a recent study, injecting Botox into your face not only makes you look like you have no emotions, it actually inhibits your ability to feel them at all. We tend to think of the relationship between our emotions and our face as a one-way street, but apparently your brain likes to check in with your facial muscles before deciding what emotion it should feeling at any given moment. Even if you have every reason to be delighted, if your brain checks in and you're not smiling, you'll still be unhappy. We need a complex series of interactions to occur involving our body, hormones and brain to truly feel something like happiness. And it turns out the part involving our facial muscles is way more important than previously thought.
Researchers found that the people who'd frozen their faces with Botox had lost the ability to feel strong emotions, or in some cases, pretty much any emotion. The study participants didn't even feel affected by "emotionally charged" videos. We're going to assume they showed them this:
If you've had Botox, this video bores you because you're dead inside.
This is all good news for those of us who haven't yet injected poison into our faces. The study, and others like it suggest that smiling when you're down will actually make you feel happy. If you're one of the millions of women (and some men) who sought the fountain of youth, and ended up with the internal and external emotional range of the T-1000 ... well, at least you aren't that kid who got slapped on the back while making a stupid face in fifth grade. He probably needs help tying his shoes by now.
Coughing Is the Cheapest Painkiller
Harness the Power of the Placebo Effect
Remember when Neo got to choose between the red pill and the blue pill? The blue pill would have put him back to sleep in the fake world of cubicles and steaks in the Matrix, where the red pill would wake him up to the real world and its industrial womb factory. You probably just chalked that scene up to another case of Hollywood turning a complicated situation into a simplistic metaphor, but what you probably didn't realize is that you're living out your own little Matrix scenario every time you go to the pharmacy.
"I really hope being swallowed by a mirror is covered by my insurance."
Did you notice how the red pill would let Neo "wake up" to the real world, but the blue pill would let him stay "asleep" in the dream world? Now go to your pharmacy. What color are all of the sleeping pills?
Blue, blue and blue -- if not the package, then the pill itself. That's not coincidence; researchers have found that the color of a pill makes a difference in how it works. In one study, every patient was given the exact same sedative, but some patients received it in a blue pill and others in an orange pill. The blue pill takers reported falling asleep 30 minutes faster, and sleeping 30 minutes longer, than the orange pill takers.
What the hell? It's yet another weird manifestation of the placebo effect. You probably already know that you can give a guy with a headache a Tic Tac and tell him it's medicine, and there's a good chance it will fix his headache just like an aspirin would, for reasons science doesn't completely understand. Well, it turns out that that already illogical and somewhat insane phenomenon is also affected by the color of the pill. The reason is that how you perceive effectiveness affects effectiveness -- and when it comes to stuff you consume, color matters.
So, in a different experiment, subjects were told they were going to get a sedative or a stimulant, when in fact they were getting neither -- all of the pills were placebos. Yet 66 percent of the subjects who took blue pills reported feeling less alert, compared to only 26 percent of those who took pink pills. That's because we've been trained to think that blue = sleep.
Also blue = drowning, and certain types of poisonous reptiles. Sweet dreams!
In a different study, when researchers put various fake medicine packages in front of subjects, the subjects picked certain colors of boxes over others. Warm colors like brown and red were perceived as more potent, especially if the shades were darker. Green and yellow, on the other hand, might as well have been 7Up-flavored Tic Tacs as far as the subjects were concerned. And this is why heart medicines are often red and brown, while skin medicines are yellow and sleeping pills are often blue or green. Painkillers, on the other hand, are often white ... maybe to remind us of opium? We're not sure.
All we remember is consuming ghosts whole, and then the long silence.
Wait, it gets even stupider. Color associations are also cultural. Maybe in America blue is a calming, peaceful color, but in Italy it's associated with the national soccer team. So researchers found that, rather than making him drowsy, a blue pill would send an Italian man screaming and singing and rioting into the night.
From a strictly practical perspective, this brain hack only really explains the color of NyQuil and DayQuil and tells you the best room color to put a bunch of aggressive Italian men to sleep in. But if you really think about it, the placebo affect implies some things about your ability to control the physical world with your mind that are downright Matrix-ian. We can't tell you exactly how to harness the power of the placebo effect, just that, if you figure it out, you will be a legitimate superhero.