10 Ways Your Brain Fools You

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The brain is a beautiful, mysterious organ. It needs 12 watts of energy just to keep it running every day. Many scientists have studied the brain to try to uncover its perplexing qualities. Although we still do not know much about the secrets of the mind, scientists have unmasked a few ways in which your brain lies to you. Despite the brain’s magnificence, it does on occasion, find ways to fool you.

Change blindness

The perceptual phenomenon of change blindness happens when a change in the visual environment occurs and goes completely unnoticed by the observer. We would think we would be able to see dramatic changes in our visual field, yet, studies have shown that we may not be entirely aware of changes that happen around us. The brain has too much information to process, and so it prioritizes certain bits. In one study, people started a conversation with an assistant who stood behind a counter. After a few moments, the assistant bent down to “retrieve something”. That’s when a switch would occur, and a new assistant would pop up and continue the conversation. Participants were unaware that the person in front of them had magically changed into someone they had never seen before. They repeated this experiment and found that a large number of participants had the same change blindness effect.

We Taste With Our Eyes

Those of you old enough to remember, may recall a blue ice lolly which was, of course, flavored “blue”. Terry E. Acree, Ph.D., presented research at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, suggesting that what the eyes see when eating may dominate over actual taste. Glasses of wine were given to the participants, of both the red and the white variety. Participants reported tasting flavors associated with red wine when drinking the red, and vice versa. Both of the wines were white wine, only the color of one had been changed to seem as though it was red wine. This proves that we can be fooled by our visual senses when it comes to taste. This could come in handy next time you are out of red wine at your dinner party, and a guest says they can only drink red wine – a little drop of food coloring and they won’t know the difference!

Source Amnesia

You probably know that London is the capital city of England, but when and where did you first hear about this? Source amnesia is the phenomenon of remembering something but forgetting from where the information originated. In extreme cases, it can be a distressing psychological disorder in which people have a tough time remembering where they learned anything, leading them to think that they are the source of information. People who suffer from source amnesia can start singing a song they heard on the radio, and their brain tricks them into believing that they have just created a new song, including melody and lyrics. Although this is an extreme example, source amnesia is a phenomenon that almost everyone has experienced at some point in their lives.

False Memories

The principle that the only person’s memory we can trust is our own, may not be as valid as we once thought. False memories are the memories in which a person remembers the details of a certain event differently from how they actually happened or recalls an event that has never even occurred. A psychological experiment found that when participants were presented with a doctored photograph of themselves in a hot-air balloon, they would recall the event and be able to describe it, as if it had actually taken place at some point in their past. This is an example of a false memory; none of the participants had ever been in a hot air balloon, but when given the evidence of a photo, they seemed to create a memory that, in reality, had never happened. Which leaves us with an unsettling thought – are there any memories you have that may not have happened?

Gambler’s fallacy

Our brains are good at recognizing patterns, yet sometimes we recognize patterns that are not there. The gambler’s fallacy is when we assume that a series of chance events have an impact on subsequent occasions. An example of the gambler’s fallacy is a coin flip. Let’s say that you flip a coin and it lands on heads. You repeat this three more times and each flip results in heads. You now have four coin flips that have fallen on heads. You might predict that the next coin flip has a larger chance of landing on tails, as five heads in a row seem more unlikely. However, the possibility of there being a fifth head is – in reality – just as likely as flipping four heads and a tail. Your brain just fooled you into thinking something else. For each flip, there’s a 50% chance it’ll be heads and 50% chance it will be tails. Just because one thing follows another does not always mean that they are related or have any influence over the subsequent events.

Sunk-Cost Fallacy

The Sunk-Cost Fallacy makes you act in ways that may not be to your best interest. It is a fallacy that we do not like to see past investments go to waste. Have you ever read a book and after 100 pages thought “This book sucks!” yet still read the book all the way to the end? This is an example of the sunk-cost fallacy in action. When we put time and effort into the first 100 pages, even though we do not enjoy it, we continue to read to the end as we have previously invested time and energy that we do not want to see go to waste. This behavior is very counteractive, of course, because had we left the book unfinished at 100 pages and started reading a more enjoyable book, our time and effort would have gone into something more enjoyable. The same fallacy can even affect us in our personal relationships, when we stay with a partner who is making us unhappy just because we have already spent five years investing our time and energy and lives with this person. Our mind tricks us into thinking that it is an investment that is worth our time.

The McGurk Effect

The McGurk Effect, named after the researcher Harry McGurk, is a phenomenon demonstrating how our brains get pretty weird when it comes to hearing sounds. The research by McGurk and McDonald found that when someone is shown a person’s lips making the sound “bah” alongside audio of a person saying the word “fah”, our brains hear the word “bah”. This effect shows that what we hear relies heavily on what we see. Even when we know of the illusion, it is still impossible for us to hear “fah” when seeing the visuals of a person saying “bah”. Try the illusion for yourself by watching the video below and see what you hear.

Phantom Vibration Syndrome

Nine out of ten people will have experienced the modern-day phenomenon known as phantom vibration syndrome. As the name suggests, phantom vibration syndrome is the sensation of feeling your phone vibrate in your pocket – but when you go to check – the phone never vibrated. The phantom vibration syndrome is relatively new to the field of psychology, seeing as cell phones have only been around for 30 years. Psychologists claim that the cause of phantom vibration syndrome is due to cell phones becoming an “extension of yourself” and anxiety over the technology causes us to hallucinate the vibrations.

The Rubber Hand Illusion

The rubber hand illusion happens when a person is made to feel like a rubber-hand is their own. Sounds strange, but this is a genuine effect that you can test out on your friends. To create the rubber hand illusion, a person should place their hand on a table. A rubber hand is then positioned next to the person’s real hand. In between the actual hand and the fake hand, there should be something to block the real hand from the person’s eyesight, such as a piece of cardboard. Then, by using a paintbrush, strokes should be administered to both the real hand and the rubber hand simultaneously. After a while of doing this, a sense of ownership over the rubber-hand starts to take place. If the rubber hand is then hit with a hammer, the person experiencing the illusion will feel as though their real hand is in danger.

Placebo Effect

Another way in which the brain can lie to us id the placebo effect. However, this lie seems to have positive effects. A placebo is a term used to describe an inactive treatment with no therapeutic benefits, such as a sugar pill. The placebo effect refers to the phenomenon in which a person can experience benefits after fake (placebo) treatment. Experiments have been carried out into this phenomenon, and participants that received only a placebo have displayed positive changes to anxiety, heart rate, blood pressure, and pain, along with many more conditions. Of course, a placebo has no real benefits; it’s fake, so how on earth do these people get better? Researchers still do not know exactly how the placebo effect works, but they know it definitively exists. It seems that merely believing you are taking effective treatment can be enough to have psychological and physical benefits.

When was the last time your brain tricked you?

Teri-Louise Grassow

Teri-Louise Grassow

Teri-Louise is a freelance writer and is currently a Master scholar of Communication and Information Science. She specializes in the fields of psychology, science and relationships. She was born and raised in the UK but she currently lives in The Netherlands.
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