Most of us know that we wouldn’t be much good without our brains, but we sometimes forget just how incredible that cerebral organ we carry around in our skull is.
From emotions, to the choices and decisions we make, to our behaviour and health, neuroscience shows us that the brain is the most amazing creation on earth… and following are five reasons why:
1. It Keeps us Toxin-Free and Healthy
We know that all animal species need sleep, as much as they need food, water and air. In humans, children need a lot of sleep to help them grow healthily.
But sleep is the occasion for another critical function in the adult brain – and it’s not just a well-deserved rest from the stresses and strains of everyday life; it is a cleaning mechanism for the body.
A study published recently in the Science journal shows that sleep ensures metabolic homeostasis. This means that it helps clean the brain; hidden “caves” in the brain are activated during sleep to bathe it in fluids and clear it of harmful toxins that can impact our daily performance and our overall health.
These toxins, which accumulate during waking hours, include proteins that have been linked with Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Our Brains Make Us Social Creatures
Our brains thrive on being around others and we really are social creatures. We are not alone in the animal kingdom in that respect, but partly what sets humans apart is the need to feel loved, to have friends, and to sympathise with others. Our brains are designed that way.
A study from the University of Virginia found that we associate those people who are closest to us, such as friends, spouses, lovers, as part of ourselves. Other people become part of our own identity, and the feelings of love and empathy we have for them help to explain why it is so hard when these relationships break down; it also helps explain why when friends or loved ones are threatened, we feel threatened too.
Neuroscience suggests that humans have a physical and mental need to have friends and allies to identify and empathise with, in order to live a healthy life.
3. Your Brain is a Third Eye
A recent study published in the Journal of Psychological Science shows that the brain is able to process and understand visual input that our eyes don’t pick up, and that we are not consciously aware of.
The study monitored brainwave patterns of subjects as they were shown a series of black silhouettes, some of which contained objects hidden in the white spaces on the outsides of the image.
They conclusively showed that the brain was able to process shapes and understand their meaning, even if the participant didn’t recognise consciously what they were.
4. Your Brain Has Amazing Powers of Communication
Did you know that your brain can send information directly to another brain?
In a pilot study, researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle investigated brain-to brain communication. They designed a computer game-based task which two subjects could cooperatively solve by transmitting a meaningful signal from one brain to the other.
Using electroencephalography (or EEG) to record brain signals and transcranial magnetic stimulation (or TMS) for stimulating the brain, they found that information taken from one brain using EEG could be transmitted to another brain noninvasively using TMS. This potentially allows two people to cooperatively solve a task via direct brain-to-brain transfer of information.
5. Your Brain Fights Emotional Pain!
Humans have in-built responses to fighting pain, which can come in many forms – physical pain (which is in itself diverse) and emotional pain.
New research from a team at the University of Michigan shows that the brain is involved in controlling the effects of socially-induced emotional pain – like when we are snubbed by friends or loved ones.
Using imaging techniques from neuroscience and an online dating model, it was found that the brain releases natural painkillers (opioids) to fight the pain of social rejection; these work to dampen the pain signals and originate from the same part of the brain that responds to physical pain.