After a night out most of us feel half-brained, but in the 1800s doctors discovered that if one half of the brain suffered injury, an individual lost certain abilities. Nowadays we think of people as falling into one of two brain categories – if you are creative you are “right brained” and if you are mathematical or scientific, you are “left-brained”.
The left side of the brain controls the right side of the body and the functions and abilities controlled by the two different sides of the brain are
Left: Logic, verbal skills, details, science, recalling names, maths, form strategies, order thinking, writing
Right: Pictures, stories, big picture, observation, shapes, music, patterns, beauty, imagination, possibility.
In some talents – for example music, which often accompanies a strong mathematical ability – it appears the two sides of the brain work together. The same is true of writing or verbal and stories or details, or pictures if you are an artist. So it seems we are not either logical or creative – ie left or right brained – at all, but an intriguing and unique mixture of both.
People only use around 10% of their brains is the favourite mantra of many teachers, but most people with active lives who constantly learn, read, chat to others and get around give their brain a good workout every day. However, lonely people or the elderly whose lives may not be so action-packed may actually experience some memory loss, loss of cognitive function or thought process – and their brain may actually shrink physically as the connections lessen from lack of use. As we age, we all develop some of the brain tangles which can cause Alzheimer’s and so it is crucial to make sure you are constantly processing new information – and reading or doing Brain Training workouts can help. People with particular talents or skills may use one part of their brain more than others – eg mathematicians would use the left side more. However, a maths expert who painted in their spare time and enjoyed pub quizzes and a run every morning would be giving their brain a good daily workout. Variety is the spice of life for your brain.
The brain stores and recalls every detail is not quite accurate asif you recalled everything your brain stored at once you would soon be pretty exhausted. The brain is much cleverer and takes an overall scan – but recall is edited and the hippocampus is the area of the brain used for short-term memory. There is much interest regarding how people recall past lives which are apparently stored in the subconscious mind and can be released under hypnosis. Hypnosis is also used for therapies and some counselling techniques, as it can help unlock stored memories which cannot immediately be accessed – but which may be holding us back or causing us grief in some way. The brain therefore acts like a computer – and computers were designed to work in the same way as a brain. When you experience something or see an object, the brain may take in all the details and store them, but you attribute maybe one or two details to the experience eg a blue car. It is only when you want to remember more details that you can call up the information in more detail – where the car was parked, the grass verge, the nodding dog in the back window, the scratch on the front wing and dent in the bumper.
Drinking kills brain cells is another dire warning for drinkers – heavy drinkers often complain their brain hurts and they may be right in some ways. Alcoholics do experience some loss of brain function, but this may be due to loss of connections in the brain or chemical changes as a result of addiction to alcohol, rather than cells actually dying on the spot if you drink alcohol. The less you use your brain cells, however, the less well they function – and diet and exercise are also very important to boost blood flow to the brain. Alcohol can have a profound effect on brain function, although an alcoholic may have just as many brain cells as a non-drinker – but the connections do not work as effectively and so thought processes in an alcoholic may be interrupted. Alcohol also affects physical functions such as co-ordination, which is why drunks stagger about or you may feel wobbly after a few drinks. It may also explain why alcohol produces risky behaviour – your brains are all there, but normal service is interrupted.
Technology is making people more stupid is not quite as simple as it sounds. There is no doubt that technology makes life simpler for us and does some of the thinking we would have done in years gone by. Calculations and mental arithmetic are actually very good for the brain – and older people who tot up their shopping before the checkout are helping their brain make and maintain new connections which will help ward off Alzheimer’s. Technology may be making people lazier, however – while at the same time giving them access to less taxing information, such as celebrity gossip instead of classical literature (which actually has more sex and violence in it than your average TV soap, but also contains longer words). Technology helps us store memories, however, which used to be the job of the brain before memory cards. Anyone who loses access to their PC or smartphone will understand the panic experienced by those who suddenly fear their memory is going and they cannot recall important information. This can happen when you are tired or stressed, as the memory centre (the hippocampus) also governs sleep and is affected by stress.
Classical music breeds brainy babies is a myth which has led to womb music by the classical greats like Verdi and Mozart becoming a staple pregnancy past-time for yummy mummies hoping to produce an Einstein. Classical composers tend to be geniuses – and Mozart was the archetypical child prodigy who was annoyingly successful at musical composition and playing the piano before he could sit up straight on a piano stool. Doctors now know that babies can hear in the womb and many mums-to-be find that playing soothing music to a foetus can stop it kicking – this may be because the music calms the mother and babies feel their mother’s stress in the womb. Mozart’s music was famously dismissed as “Too many notes” by the Emperor Joseph II. The complexity of classical music can challenge our brains and rouse or soothe our spirits – and experts believe there may be some temporary brain bolstering to be had from listening to Lizst or dozing to Debussy. Whether baby will be born singing “Nessun Dorma” note for note after nine months of Puccini is another matter.
Brain training boosts IQ is a possibility as doctors now know that we need to keep our brain active to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease – but can brain training really make us even cleverer? A study by really clever BBC boffins asked 8,600 people aged 18-60 to play online games intended to improve memory, reasoning and other cognitive skills three times a week for 10 minutes a day. They then compared the results with 2,700 people who surfed the internet for the same amount of time without playing braining training games. The BBC boffins found that when tested there was no significant difference in cognitive skills between the groups – and on some tests the internet surfers performed better. If you like brain training, keep up the good work – and if you enjoy surfing the Internet, do so. No one is sure whether iQ is a true test of “intelligence”, anyway.
Your IQ doesn’t change was a school of thought which existed forgenerations and much used to be made of IQ – every parent seems to want a genius for a child (Note: Some children would like geniuses for parents, actually.) However, the debate on IQ and its importance still rages. IQs over 160 are only in evidence in less than 1% of the population – Professor Stephen Hawking’s IQ is 160 and he is quite bright. Other IQ myths include certain nationalities (okay, the Chinese) supposedly being more intelligent than the rest of us (they did finish sequencing their section of the Human Genome Project first). One of the arguments surrounding the old fashioned IQ tests is that the responses can be learned over time – ie you can teach people logic and how to respond to the tests.
Brains under pressure work better would be great if only it were true all the time.“My brain hurts” applies to any situation when you have to think fast on your feet – and when you are under pressure, the body releases adrenalin, which gets the heart pumping and keeps the brain well supplied with oxygen-giving red bloods cells to boost brain function. Some people however, just get the adrenalin buzz which soon turns into panic and mental confusion in a crisis – you may forget essential details like where you left the car, as the flight or fight instinct paralyses you. Your heart still pumps blood to the brain but the connections cannot process everything that is happening and it is hard to make decisions. Your brain may not work well under pressure because stress hormones like cortisol can be lethal to brain cells – and also produce those physical feelings of panic. The hippocampus (which stores information and governs short-term memory) also shrinks temporarily when cortisol is released, so take a deep breath and try and calm down so your brain can work under pressure.
Guest Post Writer:
Leo Wyatt is a freelance writer & journalist who graduated from Birmingham University and has particular interests in cars, sports, parenting, safety, politics, law and health. Leo has worked for several newspapers in the midlands but now spends most of his time writing articles for companies, websites and businesses on a freelance basis, primarily the brain injury experts who offer support and rehabilitation for individuals who have suffered a brain injury.