Despite decades of scientific study, the human brain remains one of the most fascinating and mysterious phenomena in the natural world. In fact, the more we learn about the brain, the less we seem to know, and there are many researchers who think that we will never fully understand everything about our brains. In the meantime, here are eight of the strangest and most intriguing facts science has uncovered to date.
1. The Average Brain Contains 100,000 Miles’ Worth of Axons
Axons are neurons that our brains use to conduct electrical impulses from one place to another. In you took all the axons out of a human brain and arranged them end-to-end, the resultant string would be long enough to encircle the Earth more than four times. Now that’s mind-blowing!
Your Brain Houses Enough Electricity to Power a Light Bulb
The electrical impulses that travel across neurons are the primary source of power in the human brain, but you may be surprised to learn just how much electricity is crackling around up there. At any given moment, your brain is firing with 25 watts of electrical energy — enough to keep a light bulb turned on.
The Average Brain Stores 1 Quadrillion Pieces of Information
The sum of the things you learn over the course of your life really adds up, but you may be surprised at just how much information the average mature brain stores. By the end of your lifetime, your brain will have around 1 quadrillion pieces of information stored. One quadrillion is a thousand billion, or a one followed by 15 zeroes.
Your Brain Uses 25 Percent of Your Body’s Oxygen and Energy
Even though the average brain accounts for only about 2 percent of body mass, it ties up a full one-quarter of your energy and oxygen intake. That’s because your brain is functioning on rapid-fire all the time, even when you’re sleeping. In fact, studies have shown that your brain experiences more activity when you’re asleep than it does when you’re awake.
Stress Can Make Your Brain Shrink
One recent study involving monkeys found that after six months of exposure to high stress levels, the monkeys’ brains actually reduced in size. The study’s findings were replicated in another research project involving rats, in which the hippocampus shrunk when the vermin were exposed to high levels of survival-related stress. Researchers theorize that in humans, people suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could experience reductions in brain mass.
Naps Boost Brain Performance
Chances are you’ve had some anecdotal experience confirming the benefits of napping, but they’re also scientifically supported. Researchers have found that people who regularly take short daytime naps displayed higher overall levels of cognitive performance than those who don’t. Now all you have to do is convince your boss that your post-lunchtime siesta is actually a good thing…
Your Brain Is Heavily Reliant on Vision
Vision seems to be more important to the brain than any of the other four senses. In one study, subjects were alternately given written and pictorial lists containing the same information. Three days later, the average subject could remember about 10 percent of the information on the written list, but retained 65 percent of the information on the pictorial list. The researchers concluded that the human brain is essentially wired to prioritize visual, image-based input.
Doing New Tasks Slows Down Your Perception of Time
Ever wonder how you could milk more hours out of the day? One powerful technique is to continually engage in new tasks, as studies have shown that your brain perceives the passage of time more slowly when you’re engaged in unfamiliar work. Another way to achieve the same effect is to travel; time elongates as your brain processes your immersion in a foreign environment.