Is it possible our memories aren’t as reliable as we think? Is it possible that men and women think in entirely different ways? Many of life’s misunderstandings could be avoided if we simply understood one thing—how our own brains work. Below, you will find the reasoning behind 5 fascinating behaviors, reactions, and misconceptions our brains engage in on a daily basis.

1. Mirroring Neurons: the root of imitative behaviour

Discovered by Italian researchers Giacomo Rizzolatti and Vittorio Gallese in 1996, mirroring neurons are brain cells that control many interpersonal functions. Theorized to be the biological root of empathy, these neurons allow us to feel and relate to the emotions and experiences of others. If you have ever flinched involuntarily when someone else got hurt, teared up on behalf of another’s sadness, or yawned at the sight of someone else yawning, you have experienced the power of mirroring neurons. Those who have difficulty reading social cues and following smoothly through social interactions, such as autistic children and adults, seem to show virtually no activity in their mirror system when trying to identify with the emotions of others (Reiman, 28-32).

2. Rejection hurts–literally

Humans share many things in common, one of which is a longing for acceptance. We fear, on varying levels, the rejection of our peers, which explains the interminable tendency to ‘fit in’, and perhaps the widespread fear of public speaking. Why do we long so much for acceptance? Because rejection hurts–literally.

A study reveals that both physical and emotional pain are processed in the same two lobes of the brain. This indicates that we not only become emotional over physical pain, but also hurt physically over emotional pain (though the source of emotional pain is harder to pinpoint.) This may explain an aspect of why those with deep connections with others tend to live longer and happier lives than those who tend towards isolation and loneliness.

3. There’s a physical difference between male and female brains

Though culture likes to pretend men and women aren’t significantly different, science proves otherwise. Professor Richard Haier and his colleagues from the University of New Mexico found a significant difference in the white and gray matter of men and women. According to their study, men have 6.5 times more gray matter than women, and women have 10 times more white matter than men. Additionally, research has shown that men’s brains are larger than women’s, though the neurons in women’s brains are more tightly packed than men’s, allowing them to make connections more quickly. Clearly, though they’re of equal intelligence, there are substantial differences in the way men and women are created, and in the way they process information. These differences may explain why men think less holistically than women, focusing instead on one subject at a time. It may also explain why men are generally gifted in problem solving activities such as math and science, where as women are typically gifted in integrative subjects such as language.

 4. We seek out information that relates to us

Have you ever bought a car, and suddenly everyone else has the same model? Is everyone cutting off their hair right after you did, as if you set the trend? Is the word you just learned yesterday suddenly popping up in everything you read–as if it didn’t exist before you learned it?

Because our brains naturally seek out information that relates to us, before you bought that car or got that haircut, you probably didn’t notice how many people had the same one. Afterwards, however, you noticed it a lot more because at that point, you could relate to those who had it originally. Oddly, we fall prey to the frequency illusion, believing there’s been an actual increase in the frequency of these haircuts and car sales, when the truth is we simply didn’t notice them before.

5. Your memory isn’t as reliable as you think

Memories, which are stored in multiple areas across the brain, aren’t as reliable as we tend to think. They aren’t like a video recording, able to simply be played upon request. Rather, each time we recall a memory, we stitch together the various fragments we remember, reconstructing it again and again each time we reflect upon it. Additionally, we see our experiences through our biases, our emotions, and our personalities. Situations can be perceived entirely differently depending who is doing the perceiving. Thus, error has many opportunities to creep in, especially over time.

In conclusion, though we may never fully understand the brain and all its complexities, we can certainly apply the findings scientists have revealed thus far. Indeed, by failing to recognise the tendencies of the brain, we may fall prey to the dangers that coincide—arguments between spouses who can’t understand each other’s line of thinking, for example, or a defendant being falsely accused because a witness recalls a fabricated account of the crime. With a better understanding of why we do what we do, we can improve our lives and the lives of others.

Chana Elizabeth Bainter

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