We like talking about new research, but sometimes it's good to look through the old treasure trove of mind facts. Just for good measure.
This is a selection of some of our favourite psychological findings that don’t quite fit into our usual ‘fresh’ roundup, but are super fascinating nonetheless. As with all research, the results aren’t dogmatic — think of them as a thinking prompt to help you observe and reflect on your own mind. Let us begin.
If you have a plan B, plan A is more likely to fail.
In 2016, the good folks at the University of Pennsylvania did a bit of research surrounding plans. The fact that people like to have backup plans, that is. They found that people with a Plan B are more likely to invest less energy into making Plan A a success than those who don’t. The experiment itself was simple enough — participants were told that doing well on a task would earn them a treat or a break, but half of them were told to come up with a different way to get the same rewards just in case. The latter group did worse on the task and it was noted that they didn't work as hard on the task.
After a series of similar tests, the researchers concluded that backup plans aren’t necessarily bad, but it’s best if they’re made at a later stage of the achievement process. For instance, making a Plan A and a Plan B at the same time increases the likelihood of Plan A failing, but making a backup plan after investing effort into making Plan A a success can still give you the necessary safety net in the event of failure.
Native English speakers who learned Korean and Japanese, as well as native Japanese speakers who learned French, took part in a study meant to determine whether they’d surrender to a few well-known biases.
The results were unexpected. While the participants gave into the expected biases when answering questions in their native languages, they avoided the biases in their foreign languages.
This has led scientists to believe that our brain finds it harder to avoid biases when communicating in our native language, opening up an interesting space for further studies. For now, the best tip we can offer based on these findings is that maybe watching the news in Spanish is better for our mental health?
When we try to recall a memory, we think that we’re recalling the event itself, but researchers at Northwestern Medicine claim that it’s not that simple. When you remember an event from the past, your brain changes in ways that can alter the later recall of the event. This means that you might not be remembering the event, but the last time you remembered that same event.
“A memory is not simply an image produced by time traveling back to the original event — it can be an image that is somewhat distorted because of the prior times you remembered it,” said Donna Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine […]. “Your memory of an event can grow less precise even to the point of being totally false with each retrieval.”
If this freaks you out a little, remember—you retain information better if you’re quizzed on it. So if you have trouble remembering details, keep a journal and remember them often (and accurately).
Our Brain has Decreased in Size in the Last 10,000 Years
This one is a bit of an evolutionary wild ride, and therefore a perfect ice breaker for your next dinner party.
So. Our brains used to be 10% bigger when we were hunters-gatherers, and the brain has been steadily decreasing in size ever since. Granted, the size has stabilised in the last couple of millennia and is likely to stay as is, so that’s comforting. Still, evolutionary psychologists have come up with some harmless, and some pretty bizarre theories about why the decrease in volume happened in the first place.
The first is a great consolation. It’s a matter of finding the right fit. Our craniums have been increasing steadily for such a long time, reaching its peak, and then decreasing to an optimum balance between what a higher IQ and things like birth mortality(remember, the size of human heads makes human childbirth extremely painful and dangerous). There’s also the notion of the brain uses up too much energy, so we’ve evolved to conserve a bit more while staying relatively sharp — a notion supported by the fact that the cranial volume decrease coincides with the invention of writing.
But perhaps the most interesting explanation for why our brains are smaller might come fromself-domestication. Whoa.
Domestication is all about one thing — survival of the friendliest, which usually causes the domesticated members of a species to develop certain traits. They’re smaller, more cooperative, slighter, and they have smaller brains. As human societies began to emerge and people started to see the benefits of collectivism, the ‘survival of the friendliest’ started to become prominent. Humans might have opted to weed out the wilder, more aggressive members of their species and favour smaller, more cooperative ones in order to build complex societal systems that we still use today.
So there we go. A bunch of smaller noggins working together is better than a bigger one working alone.
The Minderful Voices Podcast
We hope you enjoyed this brief trip into some of our favourite research — there’s more where that came from. If you’re looking for succinct tips from everyday people about what helps them stay happy and content, check out our 1-Minute Mental Fitness Podcast Minderful Voices. Listen to Will on learning languages:
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