Nine Brain Quirks You Didn’t Realize You Had

By | July 11, 2007
On Cell Phone

I think the brain is most interesting when it doesn’t work the way you expect it should. Psychology often confirms our intuitions about how our minds work, but it offers quite a few surprises as well. Although some psychology buff’s will have heard a few of these before, here’s a list of quirks in your brain you probably didn’t realize you had:

1) Your short-term memory has a max capacity of seven.

Humans have three forms of memory: sensory, long-term and short-term. Long-term memory is like hard-drive space, while short-term memory works like a very small RAM. This short-term memory can hold only about five to nine (average is seven) items at a time.

Remembering information longer than this requires you to either compress it down into seven units or store it in long-term memory. Most phone numbers are only seven digits.

2) Chartreuse is the most visible color.

Yellow-green, chartreuse, sits right in the middle of the frequencies of visible light. Your eyes have receptors for blue, green and red. Being in the middle, yellow-green triggers the most of these receptors to fire, making it easy to spot. In some cities, firetrucks have been changed from red to a yellow-green color to make them more visible.

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3) Your subconscious is smarter than you are.

Or at least more powerful. In one study, a square was assigned to a location on a computer screen through a complex pattern. After watching it, people began to get results better than chance of picking out where the square would pop up next. But when asked to consciously determine the pattern, even given a few hours, nobody could do it.

4) You have two nervous systems.

One set controls excitation and the other controls inhibition. If you hold out your hand, you might notice minor tremors. This is caused by slight, random differences in the amount each of the two systems are firing.

5) Your brain is awful at probability.

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Okay, so maybe your high-school math teacher could have told you this one. But, what’s interesting isn’t that your brain is bad at probability, but how. In one study recipients were asked:

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.
Rank the following statements from most probable to least probable:Linda is a teacher in an elementary school.

  1. Linda works in a bookstore and takes Yoga classes.
  2. Linda is active in the feminist movement.
  3. Linda is a psychiatric social worker.
  4. Linda is a member of the League of Women Voters.
  5. Linda is a bank teller.
  6. Linda is an insurance salesperson.
  7. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

Almost 90% of students responded that #7 was more probable than #5. This is despite the fact that to be a bank teller and in the feminist movement is completely contained within the set of #5 (just being a bank teller). It seems our minds like to think more details make events more probable, not less.

6) Your memory isn’t great either.

Studies have shown that people are highly likely to misremember past events. Even worse, it is incredibly easy to suggest a memory that never happened. This is why so-called “repressed” memories should be given a lot of thought. It is far easier to suggest a memory of an event never happened, then it is to recover one that actually did.

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7) You can perceive depth with one eye.

It’s a myth that depth perception is entirely the result of having two eyes. Binocular vision does assist in making a three-dimensional picture. However, most of your ability to perceive depth comes from inside your brain. It has been wired to look at angles and proportions to judge distance.

If you required two eyes to perceive depth then most optical illusions wouldn’t work and it would be incredibly difficult to gather information from flat photographs. Not to mention a lot more one-eyed pirates walking overboard.

8 ) Long-term memory shuts down during sleep.

The parts of the brain that transfer information to long-term memory shut down while sleeping. This is why dreams quickly fade away after you wake up. Although you may have several dreams in a night, they aren’t being recorded into long-term memory. Generally only the fragments of a dream left in short-term memory have a chance to be encoded after you wake up.

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9) You have an instant playback feature.

At the beginning I mentioned that humans have three forms of memory, short-term, long-term and sensory. Sensory memory is your brain’s equivalent to an instant playback feature. Working for both your vision and hearing, your thalamus can resend signals a few seconds after they were originally sent.

Imagine being at a party and overhearing someone say your name. Often you can recall what they said even though you were focused on another conversation. This is because your sensory memory re-sends the signals when it finds something important, such as your name. If you lacked this form of memory, activities such as multitasking or taking notes from a speaker would be impossible.

If you’re asked to repeat something you just said because the other person wasn’t listening, just wait a few seconds. Often they can replay the message in their head and give a response.

At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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Con #2: Less Human Interaction

One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

Con #4: Unique Distractions

Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

Final Thoughts

Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

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