10 Surprising Things That Influence the Brain

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There’s no question that the brain is a profoundly complex organ that is shaped by all kinds of external circumstances and behaviors. But some are not what you’d expect.


A brand new brain

Research published in the journal Biology Letters in 2009 found that some babies' expressions signal intense brain activity caused by mirror neurons. These neurons kick into gear when a baby performs a particular action and when the baby observes someone else doing the same action. Both functions help the baby’s motor system learn the action.


Angry voices

Researchers at the University of Oregon found that the sound of angry voices can affect the way a baby’s brain learns to process emotional tones, even when the baby is asleep. Children from homes that were relatively peaceful were less stressed by the sound of an angry voice than children who were surrounded by angry voices at home.


Family meals

A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that teenagers with families who regularly ate meals together were more emotionally stable and trusting than teenagers whose families who did not eat together often. Findings were consistent in all the teens, regardless of gender, age and socioeconomic level.


Screen time

Being a couch potato can harm children's relationships. A study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood found that five-year-olds who watch television for three or more hours each day are more likely to develop antisocial behaviors, such as fighting and stealing.


The guilt trip

And as long as we’re giving parenting advice, a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that children who are subjected to the parental ‘guilt trip’ feel resentment and stress toward their parents well into the following day. A father’s guilt trip seemed to be especially upsetting.


Plate size

A study from Cornell University found that people with smaller plates ate fewer calories than people with larger plates. They also found that people whose plates had a contrasting color to their food ate less. Researchers think this happens because the contrasting colors helped people to see more clearly how much food they had.


Choices, choices, choices…

Research published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review found that the more choices people have, the more likely they are to make a risky decision. Findings suggest that when the brain is forced to discern a multitude of possible outcomes, it becomes more likely to overestimate the likelihood of rare events and make risky decisions based on the skewed information.


Hormonal choices

Attempts to delay a pregnancy may result in a less manly-looking mate for some women. A study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that women who were on ‘the pill’ were more likely to be attracted to men with less masculine facial features, such as a narrower jaw and less pronounced cheekbones, than women who were not on the pill.


Cold sores

A study published in the journal Neurology found that people who had higher levels of infection from viruses such as HSV 1 were 25 percent more likely to suffer from cognitive and memory problems as older adults. The study does not imply that viruses cause memory loss, but it could lead to ways to identify people at risk for memory loss.


Avoiding the girl next door

Usually, when a man interacts with an attractive woman, their testosterone levels increase. But when men interact with the wife of a close friend, their testerone levels actually drop. Researchers believe that the testosterone nosedive may be nature’s way of keeping the peace within communities.