8 Weird Tricks Your Brain Plays On You Every Day, Explained By Science
Your brain does everything for you, but it's also somewhat of a mystery. As much as you learn, however, your brain is always a few steps ahead of you. Throughout our daily lives, neurology colors all sorts of your perceptions and interactions. These tricks your brain plays on you are fascinating, and might add some perspective to some of your stresses.
Anyone who's seen a really cool optical illusion knows that your brain can create all sort of interesting visual tricks. The illusions created by your brain, however, don't exist solely in the confines of what you see. Your brain convinces you of all sorts of untrue, or distorted things every day. False memories are a famous, and creepy example, but there are more mundane distortions that we experience too.
It's not all bad that your brain isn't projecting complete truth. It helps you wade through all of your experiences. "People have to process millions of pieces of sensory data every second, and we would get completely overwhelmed by it all if the brain didn’t filter out most of it and focus on what seems most important at the time," Beth Burgess psychotherapist and the author of Instant Wisdom: 10 Easy Ways to Get Smart Fast, tells Bustle. Most of these brain tricks aren't any problem in our daily lives. But they are interesting to understand and explore.
Here are eight weird tricks your brain plays on you every day, explained by science.
1. It Makes You Think Others Can Read Your Mind
If you've ever walked to the front of a room nervously, or gone grocery shopping when you were sad after a breakup, you may have experienced the feeling that everyone in the room knew exactly what was going on in your mind. This phenomenon is a trick of your brain, however, called "The Illusion of Transparency."
"The illusion of transparency is a cognitive bias that causes us to overestimate the degree to which other people can read our emotional state," Itamar Shatz, PhD candidate at Cambridge University and author of Effectiviology, tells Bustle. "For example, if you're giving a public talk, the illusion of transparency could cause you to think that the audience can tell how nervous you are, even when that's not the case." Because you are so used to having full access to your own feelings, your brain can forget that others don't have the same point of view.
2. It Makes You Think Everyone Notices When Something Embarrassing Happens
Another daily trick your brain plays on you is zooming in on your most embarrassing moments, making you think everyone around you noticed too. This cognitive bias is called "The Spotlight Effect."
"The spotlight effect [...] causes us to assume that we are being observed and noticed by others more than is actually the case," Shatz says. "For example, if you make an embarrassing mistake or have a bad hair day, the spotlight effect could cause you to overestimate the likelihood that other people will notice or remember it." Similarly to the Illusion of Transparency, this phenomenon happens because when you are hyper-focused on something, your brain tricks you into thinking everyone else is, too. Turns out, they're probably focused on their own bad hair days.
3. It Distorts The Facts About People We Dislike
When you dislike someone, you've probably realized that everything they do is annoying. From the way they part their hair, to the way they chew, to the way they sign off on emails, your brain catches every piece of data possible to dislike. Turns out, your brain is tricking you with this.
"We tend to ignore the good traits and facts about people we don’t like," Dr. Bryan Bruno, medical director at Mid City TMS, tells Bustle. "We also distort the facts in order to fit our view of dislike for that person." So while the person you dislike may actually have some redeeming qualities, your brain once again zooms in: focusing on only what bothers you.
4. It Makes You Follow Orders
The famous Milgram Experiment, which used simulated electric shocks to show the horrifying effects of obedience, has become more controversial in recent years. Still, the findings that people will go to great lengths for authority do seem to hold up, even if perhaps not as much as Milgram's research suggested.
"Our brain primes us to follow orders just because it comes from an authority figure," Dr. Bruno says. To what degree your brain convinces you to follow arbitrary authority is up for debate, but if tricks you into following all sorts of social codes of authority every day.
5. It Makes You Think Just Like People Around You
Even if you have a diverse set of family and friends, it turns out your brain is likely priming you to think and act like them. Think about your group of friends, for example, you may have your own little "language" among you, funny only to the people in your group chat.
"We tend to think and act like those around us," Dr. Bruno says. "Groups of friends tend to think, talk, and act the same. Close-knit groups of friends can even start to look the same over time, according to several studies." While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it does mean your brain may be tricking you into thinking you're a little bit more unique than you think.
6. It Makes You See Yourself In Every Personality Test
Nothing against personality tests, but the reason they all tend to feel so eerily accurate is actually due to the inner workings of your brain.
"In a phenomenon called the Barnum Effect, people tend to give high accuracy ratings to descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically to them, even though they’re actually vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people," Dr. Bruno says. Continue enjoying all those personality quizzes; just remember this when you feel like they're getting a little too accurate.
7. It Can Over-Focus On Social Cues
If you have social anxiety, your brain may be playing tricks on you all the time. This one little trick your brain plays, however, happens to a lot of people to varying degrees.
"The brains of people with social anxiety over-focus on social cues," Burgess says. "So, the brain will notice if someone laughs as they walk past us, causing a socially anxious person to think that person must be laughing at them. The brain may point out if a stranger sniffs or frowns as they walk past, leading a socially anxious person to feel disapproved of or judged." This pattern is another example of your brain jumping to perceived conclusions that aren't actually true.
8. It Causes You To Say What You Otherwise Wouldn't
A slip of the tongue, or a Freudian slip, tends to seem like a window to the mind. In reality, these awkward moments are your brain tricking you into saying something you really don't want to say, at the most inopportune time.
"Usually when people are tired or overwhelmed the subconscious uses that opportunity to pay a visit to your consciousness," psychiatrist Dr. Zlatin Ivanov, tells Bustle. "The result most of the time is to make you feel embarrassed. The most common is 'a tongue slip' when the person says something they didn’t want to say because it will cause embarrassment or at least inconvenience to somebody." So while a common concept of a Freudian slip suggests you accidentally say what you're really feeling, your brain actually is tricking you into saying what you're most scared of saying.
A healthy brain plays little tricks on you in your daily life, and that's perfectly fine. Learning what these tricks are, and how they affect you and your perception of the world around you, however, might be able to ease some of your common embarrassments or fears.