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9 Clever Ways to Hack Your Brain Today

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We may be biased, but we think the human brain is pretty special. All this week, mentalfloss.com is celebrating this miracle organ with a heap of brain[y] stories, lists, and videos. It all leads up to Brain Surgery Live With mental_floss, a two-hour television event hosted by Bryant Gumbel. The special airs Sunday, October 25 at 9 p.m. EST on the National Geographic Channel.

From relieving pain to winning games, these 11 tricks have got you covered.

1. COUGH WHEN YOU GET A SHOT.

The doctor’s office, the needle, the pain … nobody likes getting shots. We can’t do anything about the needle or the doctor, but there is a really easy way to reduce the pain: just cough. Scientists in Germany administered two rounds of shots to a group of 20 people. The first time, the test subjects just sat there. The second time, they were instructed to cough as they got the shot. Nineteen out of 20 test subjects reported feeling less pain during the second shot.

2. SMELL GOOD TO LOOK GOOD.

Wearing perfume or cologne makes you more attractive to the opposite sex—even when they can’t smell it. Researchers asked women to rate the attractiveness of men in photos and on video. The guys in one group had sprayed themselves with a super-manly scented deodorant, and the other guys were unscented. In still images, the results were as you might expect: those with more attractive features were rated as more attractive. But once the women saw the guys moving around on videotape, they consistently rated the men wearing body spray as hotter. What’s behind this? Attitude. The men who thought they smelled good behaved more confidently, which made them more attractive.

3. ON A BUDGET? STOP TOUCHING STUFF.

Our brains may be incredibly complex, but in many ways, we’re all just overgrown toddlers. When we see something we like, we want to touch it, but touching things just makes us want them more. Stores and salespeople know this; it’s why display models and test-drives exist. But the problem runs even deeper: once we’ve got something in our paws, we’re even willing to pay more for it. So if your wallet has seemed a little emptier these days, try practicing what we teach preschoolers: keep your hands to yourself.

4. BOOST YOUR NIGHT VISION WITH A ‘HAND’-MADE EYE PATCH.

Did you ever wonder why olde-tymey European pirates wore eye patches? It’s not just because they look cool (although they do). Sailors move between a ship’s decks many times a day. Each time they go below deck, their eyes have to adjust to the dark, and vice versa. This can take a while, and we all know pirates were on a tight schedule. Historians believe they made do with a brain hack that you can use today: keep one eye in the dark by covering it with an eye patch or your hand. By the time you move below deck (or into the dark bathroom at night), you’ll have one eye ready. 

5. KEEP A LID ON YOUR TEMPER BY USING YOUR WEAK HAND.

Everybody gets angry, and once in a while, everybody snaps. But some people snap a lot more than others. Scientists say the difference between frequent exploders and everyone else isn’t that the exploders have more anger; it’s that they have less self-control. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Researchers found that simply by using their nondominant hands for mundane tasks (eating cereal, opening doors, etc.) for two weeks, their self-control improved. The theory is that self-control is like a muscle. It can be strong or weak, energized or tired. And just like a muscle, it can be strengthened. Each time a person has to deal with the aggravation of pouring a drink with the wrong hand, it strengthens their self-control. Like any exercise, the process can be painful at first, but over time, the work pays off. 

6. WANT TO WIN? WEAR RED.

Whether it’s love or war (or sports, anyway), wearing red will increase your chances of victory. Both men and women are consistently rated as sexier when they’re wearing red. In close matches, athletes wearing red are far more likely to beat their opponents. The advantage is so marked that some researchers have suggested a ban on red uniforms, which may give one side an unfair advantage. The reason for these phenomena may be embarrassingly simple. In many primate species, certain relevant body parts flush red when an animal is ready to mate. In other species, redness is a sign of dominance or aggression. Humans are primates too, so it’s not too surprising the signals have translated. 

7. POWER UP YOUR POWER NAP WITH COFFEE.

There are two surefire ways to deal with drowsiness or flagging energy. The first is coffee, and the second is a power nap. But what if you combined them? It sounds like a really bad idea, but if you do it right, it can put your afternoon sleepies to bed. The trick is to have a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage, then go straight to sleep for no more than 15 minutes. Scientists who tested the method say the one-two punch of caffeine and power nap completely eliminated test subjects’ sleepiness. Why? Well, caffeine takes a little while to start kicking in—about 15 minutes, in fact. You can squeeze in a little bit of shut-eye and wake up just in time to maximize your power-up. 

8. RELIEVE PAIN WITH (A LITTLE) SWEARING.

What’s the first thing you say when you stub your toe? If you’re like most people, it’s not something we can say here. From an early age, we’re taught that obscenities are inappropriate. But what if they serve a physiological purpose? Scientists instructed test subjects to plunge their hands into buckets of ice water. As the pain took hold, the participants were told to say one of two words: a neutral word, or the F-word. The results were pretty clear: “Swearing increased pain tolerance, increased heart rate and decreased perceived pain compared with not swearing.” There’s a catch, though: it didn’t work for potty mouths. Swearing every day lessened the effect of swearing in a painful situation. The researchers concluded that like any other treatment for pain, cussing is most effective when used in moderation. 

9. FEELING ANXIOUS? BLOW ON YOUR THUMB.

It’s super weird, but it works. Your thumb has its own heartbeat. When you’re anxious, stressed out, or hyped up, your heart rate will speed up, which makes you feel even more wired. Slowly blowing air over the pad of your thumb does two things. First, it helps cool your hot hands, which should encourage your heart to slow down. Second, it forces you to take slow, deep breaths, which tells your nervous system that the danger has passed.

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Health
How Dangerous Is a Concussion?
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It's not football season, but the game is still making headlines: In a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, neuropathologist Ann McKee and her colleagues examined the brains of 111 N.F.L. players and found 110 of them to have the degenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

The condition has been linked to repeated blows to the head—and every year in the U.S., professional and novice athletes alike receive between 2.5 and 4 million concussions. This raises the question: What happens to the human brain when we get a concussion or suffer a hard blow to the head, and how dangerous are these hits to our long-term health?

Expert Clifford Robbins explains in the TED-Ed video below:

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science
The Brain Chemistry Behind Your Caffeine Boost
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Whether it’s consumed as coffee, candy, or toothpaste, caffeine is the world’s most popular drug. If you’ve ever wondered how a shot of espresso can make your groggy head feel alert and ready for the day, TED-Ed has the answer.

Caffeine works by hijacking receptors in the brain. The stimulant is nearly the same size and shape as adenosine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows down neural activity. Adenosine builds up as the day goes on, making us feel more tired as the day progresses. When caffeine enters your system, it falls into the receptors meant to catch adenosine, thus keeping you from feeling as sleepy as you would otherwise. The blocked adenosine receptors also leave room for the mood-boosting compound dopamine to settle into its receptors. Those increased dopamine levels lead to the boost in energy and mood you feel after finishing your morning coffee.

For a closer look at how this process works, check out the video below.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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