15 Fascinating Facts About the Brain You Didn't Know

We love the whole brain enough to name our company after it. Everything about our brain training app is firmly rooted in neuroscience, a field populated with recent discoveries and long-held mysteries. But did you know the brain has some amazing powers? We wanted to share our favorite facts about the brain with you. Drop one of these fun brain facts into a conversation, work it into your classroom curriculum, or just read on to inform yourself (which, by the way, will create new pathways in your brain).

#1: Our Brain = 9,766 iPhone 7s.

While there are tasks that modern computers can carry out that the human brain can’t, our minds still have technology beat in some aspects. The human memory size can hold the equivalent of 2.5 million gigabytes of data. To put that in perspective, an iPhone 7 only has 256. 

London’s taxi drivers are famous for knowing every backroad and alternate route, and researchers found that the drivers had larger hippocampuses -- the brain’s major player in memory. The study suggested that the more information someone has to memorize, the larger their hippocampus will become, meaning we could potentially create more brain storage capacity. (So, keep reading.)

While we’re still learning about the brain’s information storage characteristics (like, why are some memories more accurate and vivid than others?), we know enough to have developed proven ways of improving our memories. Brain training exercises that improve your memory capacity are now as easy as playing a game on your phone.

#2: The Brain Doesn’t Feel Pain.

The brain and the liver have something in common: they have no pain receptors (nociceptors). You’ve likely seen videos of brain surgeons asking a patient to play an instrument or tell a joke -- wide awake -- during brain surgery, and this lack of nociceptors is what helps make that possible. 

What about brain freezes, you ask? That’s not brain pain, that’s discomfort coming from the restriction of your vessels and arteries in reaction to the cold. 

#3: Our Brains Are Chatty

Why is meditation so difficult? Because our brains have trouble shutting up -- the average person has up to 70,000 thoughts a day. Research also suggests that our brains are wired for ten-minute attention span intervals, which throws a wrench in the traditional 2-hour lecture module. The reason behind this is the constant stimulation our brains require, which is why the practice of meditation takes time to master.

Quieting down our brain’s thoughts with meditation has shown to be hugely beneficial to our mental and physical health. Start small and work your way up to longer, more frequent meditations using Total Brain’s meditation library, home to brain breaks ranging from 5 to 15 minutes long.

#4: Male Brain vs. Female Brains: Different, But Equal

Imaging studies have shown us a few differences in the size and processing characteristics of the male and female brain. Men’s brains are about 10% larger than women’s, but size doesn’t make a difference here -- intelligence remains the same. Other studies have found that the brain processes pain differently for men and women (women have a higher sensitivity to pain, for example). 

Women have more grey matter in their brain, but use less of it than men (while also using more white matter than men). The male brain seems to differ from the female brain in social decision-making processes and how it copes with stress. There’s still more to discover, though, on what causes these differences.

#5: Most of Your Brain Weight Come From One Area.

The average brain weight is three pounds, but much of the human brain’s weight (85%) is in the cerebrum, the largest part of the brain. It makes sense that the cerebrum is the biggest section -- the brain’s #1 priority is safety, and much of this happens in the cerebrum. It’s the section responsible for survival-related tasks: judgement, problem-solving, temperature regulation, movement coordination, and functions related to the five senses, among others. The heaviest part of the brain is also the most developed.

#6: Brains Are Like Fingerprints.

To the untrained eye, every brain looks the same -- but actually, no two people have the same brain anatomy. Your brain is the only one in the world like it because of the experiences that influenced your brain development, what you’ve learned, along with genetics. And the more you experience, the more your wiring continues to change. It was only until about 30 years ago that scientists realized how different brains are from each other.

Since every brain is unique, mental health management has to be tailored to the individual. Learn about your brain’s strengths and areas for improvement -- and get a personalized brain training program -- by taking Total Brain’s free 15-minute assessment.

#7: MRIs Can See You Falling In Love.

Technology can spot the most powerful force in the universe playing out in your brain --romantic love. Imaging studies showed that participants who were in love had high activity in areas of the brain associated with reward, motivation, emotion, and social functioning. The study compared in-love brains against the scans of those that had recently ended a relationship or were not in one at all. Not only did they find that heightened activity in the aforementioned regions of the brain, but found that the longer someone had been in love, the greater that brain activity was.

#8: The Brain Peaks In Your 20s.

Teenagers can blame some of their bad decision-making on their prefrontal cortex, which doesn’t fully develop until 25. It’s the part of the brain responsible for comprehending long-term consequences as a basis for good judgement and decision-making. The kicker is that just as your brain reaches true adulthood, it starts to see a cognitive decline in the late twenties, resulting in the long, downward trend in capacities like memory. 

How your brain changes with age is still a topic scientists are exploring, but we’ve learned a lot so far: it continues to develop until the late 40s, and is the only organ in the body to change over such a long period. Our spinal cords stop growing at age four, and just prior to puberty, the brain’s grey matter peaks in size. It then gets cut down in adolescence, after which development shifts to the frontal lobe (where the prefrontal cortex lives). Your ability to learn a language begins to decline around age 18, according to an MIT study. After your mid-30s, your brain will have a harder time with some functions -- for example, it becomes more difficult to pair faces with names. Brain shrinkage with age is natural, and in its 70s, can only recognize about 75% of people. 

We understand this neuroscience, which is why we created a brain training game that will keep human recognition skills sharp. Play Total Brain’s Faces and Names to strengthen your associations between the two and your ability to recall them.

#9: Your Brain Is An Orchestra When It Comes to Sleep.

t’s a common misconception that when we sleep, we’re just turning off our brains. The brain while sleeping never fully “shuts down”; when you’re dreaming, different brain parts and functions go to work at different times. Scientists believe the brain uses this time to clean out toxins in the area. It also tells your body to produce hormones that keep you from acting out your dreams. The brain also lowers your breathing, heart rate and body temperature.

The brain’s electrical activity fluctuates depending on the phase of sleep you’re in, and ten minutes after waking, you’ll forget about 90% of what you dreamt. Yet, a good night’s sleep can help you store more information gained during the day vs. a poor night’s sleep.

We are still figuring out the brain’s dreaming process (including the purpose of dreaming), but modern research suggests it's an amalgam of imagination, psychology, and neurology. 

#10: Your brain is an oxygen hound.

The brain’s oxygen consumption is significant, using 20% of the oxygen in your body -- that’s three times as much as your muscles use. The brain needs oxygen to function as well as to heal itself. In addition to breathing deeply, you can deliver more oxygen to your brain via your diet (consuming foods that aid in oxygenation). Starting at five minutes without oxygen, brain cells start to die. The longer the deprivation, the more severe the brain damage. 

This is part of why conditions like Sleep Apnea, which deprive our brains of the oxygen it needs, can be so detrimental to brain capacity during the day. If you feel tired during the day and have trouble focusing, take Total Brain’s assessment, which screens for Sleep Apnea (along with other issues).

To get more oxygen to your brain, which will decrease stress and increase energy, engage in deep breathing exercises throughout the day. Try Total Brain’s library of breathing exercises for quick, five-minute oxygen boosts.

#11: The Body Below Your Neck Greatly Impacts What’s Above It.

Body health is related to brain health. What you put into your stomach will affect your brain’s performance (hence the term “brain food”). Staying hydrated is really important -- if you’re dehydrated by just 2%, you may start to notice decreased ability in focus, memory, and cognition. As more evidence that water loss from the body affects the brain, 90 minutes of sweating can age your brain as much as one year (by shrinking it)!

Exercise and brain health go hand-in-hand. Exercise benefits the brain by boosting your capacity for learning and slowing down the (inevitable) cognitive decline. Those who exercise regularly over time (doing more than the recommended minimum) can actually slow the brain aging process by up to ten years. 

#12: Alcoholism Can Permanently Alter Your Brain

How alcohol affects the brain (and subsequently, behavior) is not a mystery -- drinking reduces the ability to make good decisions or coordinate actions like driving, etc. But when it comes to heavy usage over time, the brain and alcohol do not fare well together. Researchers have discovered that alcohol can cause irreversible damage to cognitive function (including the onset of dementia) and memory. Other issues like sleep problems and mood disturbances can persist indefinitely. A study showed that heavy drinkers were at a much higher risk of seeing a shrinkage in their hippocampus, which is responsible for capacities like learning and memory.

Part of overcoming addiction, whether it’s to a chemical like alcohol or a behavior, like overeating, is to learn how to manage cravings and impulses (as well as to deal with the emotions and stress that accompany them). You do this, in part, by training the brain to control urges, be resilient, and adopt better coping mechanisms. Many addiction rehabilitation facilities have seen amazing results in adding Total Brain to their treatment resources, providing residents and outpatients with access to games like Self Regulate and Thought Tamer. Learn more in our post on how digital tools can help quell a craving.

#13: Your Brain’s Speed Limit Would Wreck The Autobahn.

The brain’s thinking speed is fast, and the brain processing information so rapidly is what makes us capable of witty quips or life-saving, knee-jerk reactions. How long does it take for the brain to process information? It travels at the speed of a Maglev train -- about 268 mph, which is faster than a Formula 1 race car. Activities like reading are ways of directly downloading information into the brain. The brain’s superhighway is made up of 400 miles of capillaries (among other ingredients) that carry all that oxygen (via blood) to different regions.

You Don’t Recall Events, You Recall Memories.

When you remember something that happened, you aren’t actually recalling the event -- your brain is recalling your last accessed memory of that event. Each time you remember something, you are creating a copy of a copy, part of why our memories are much less reliable than we would like it to be. 

Each time you access memories, your brain is essentially recreating it, and that’s why details might change (was her shirt blue...or green?). Despite these changes, we strengthen a memory each time we recall it, a way of reinforcing its place in our minds. And, each time we engage in memory recall our brain creates new neural pathways.

#15: You Can Lose Half a Brain And Be OK.

So maybe the definition of “OK” might differ for some of us, but for the most part, we can go about our day with half a brain. Removing half the brain, surgically, is called a hemispherectomy (and no, it’s not common). Usually this procedure is meant to treat those who suffer from severe seizure disorders. How losing half your brain would affect you depends on the person; you’d likely retain your personality but may lose some cognitive function. A recent study that followed six patients who had undergone hemispherectomies as children found that their cognitive abilities were fine -- and they had all the same neural networks as complete brains.

This fascinating fact has nothing to do with the myth that we only use 10% of our brains. We use our entire brains, but because no single area is dominant -- and since the brain is capable of creating new pathways -- the organ enjoys more flexibility than, say, our lungs. 

Outside of hemispherectomies, scientists have sought to answer, “Can you live with half a brain?”.So far, the answer is “yes”: they recently dove into a recorded case of a woman missing her entire cerebellum -- she is living a perfectly normal life (aside from some clumsiness).

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