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Our brains interpret everything we see, hear, taste, feel, or smell. Most of the time our brains guide us well through a puzzling world, but sometimes they don't tell us the truth.

Without our brains to integrate and interpret the sensory inputs of the rest of our  body, we would experience an incredibly black, silent, and isolated existence. But even when our sense are fully functional, our brains sometimes don't allow us to be aware of the full truth of the world outside our bodies. Here are 10 examples of the games our brains play on us.

1. Emotional loops.

Imagine it's a beautiful, sunny, warm day and you are at the beach. You put on your Hawaiian shorts and Tony Bahama top with your favorite flip flops and slather on some sunscreen to amble down to the beach. There in the water just a few yards away you see a shark.

You would think you would feel fear and then your heart would start beating fast to make sure you get away from the water. Actually, according to the peripheral theory of emotion, your heart starts beating fast and then you feel afraid. Doctors know this from the effects of beta-blocker drugs used to slow own racing hearts and lower blood pressure. It's the heart that tells your brain to be afraid, rather than the other way around. And if something has limited your heart rate, you won't feel as afraid.

2. Semantic Saturation

We all know what brains are, don't we? If you have half a brain, you know which part of your body is your brain, unless you are brain impaired or brain dead--or do you?

If you were to read a whole page of really bad writing like the paragraph above, maybe you actually would not know, at least temporarily, what a brain was. According to the theory of semantic saturation, the more we read or hear a word a number of times in rapid repetition, the less able to the brain is to "pull up" the definition of the word so that we understand it.

3. Moral dumbfounding.

Most of us are pretty sure that the wicked witch in the story Hansel and Gretel, who fed the children gingerbread before trying to eat them, was morally in the wrong. We're opposed to stealing gifts from underneath the Christmas tree, or to supplementing one's diet with cannibalism.

But most of can't articulate exactly why it is we are opposed to "obvious" wrongs or in favor of "obvious" rights. Some truths are so self-evient we really aren't sure what and why they are. Maybe some social taboos are so deeply ingrained in our conscious minds that we simply cannot easily question them.

4. Sensory deprivation.

It's really rare to wind up in a situation in which you are deprived of sensory input. Maybe you choose to spend some time in a sensory deprivation tank, or you are locked in a dark prison cell, get trapped under rubble in an earthquake, or suffer a vertebrobasilar stroke that doesn't kill but causes a condition called locked in syndrome. When our brains don't receive sensory inputs, however, they make them up. Researchers putting people in a specially soundproofed room called an anechoic chamber and then turning off the lights found that volunteers in the experiments began hallucinating colors and sounds as they stayed in the chamber.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Carneiro P, Garcia-Marques L, Fernandez A, Albuquerque P. Both associative activation and thematic extraction count, but thematic false memories are more easily rejected. Memory. 2013 Dec 4.
  • Liu B, Wu G, Meng X, Dang J. Correlation between prime duration and semantic priming effect: evidence from N400 effect. Neuroscience. 2013 May 15. 238:319-26. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2013.02.010. Epub 2013 Feb 13.
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