The human mind is a beautiful thing. Sometimes, we take it for granted. There are countless things that our brains do every day as they react to stimuli without our consent or conscious action. These are the things we don’t even think about, yet are the key to our existence.
Here are 5 things humans do automatically, and why.
Okay, we all know the fake chuckles that happen around an office conference table, but what about those real belly laughs? The laughs you can’t control. The laughs that bring tears to your eyes. Or, the compulsion to laugh that overcomes you even when you know you shouldn’t? Remember in grade school when a teacher would tell you to stop laughing, and for some reason you just couldn’t stop?
This is because laughing is an impulse our brains control. It isn’t something we consciously choose to do (except for maybe during those awkward meetings). While laughter may seem simple, it results from several elements of the brain coming together. Our brains process the emotion a joke or situation provokes, form a cognitive response, and stimulate our muscles as a reaction. The last step is the laugh, though the three things occur at lightening speed. We don’t have time to think about it. We just laugh.
2. Create False Memories
It’s no secret that our minds can play tricks on us. You swore that car was blue, but your friend says it was gray. Or, you know you saw a shirt you wanted at one store, but your shopping partner swears it was at another. Why does this happen?
Additionally, you may remember a story from when you were very young, yet when you re-tell it as an adult another person corrects your version. What’s up with that? Our brains create false memories as a result of external data. This data is known as “post-event information.” Our brains collect so much data every second of every day that sometimes it gets mixed up. The accounts of others can also influence our memories.
This is one of the reasons why lawyers often claim eye witnesses are not reliable sources in an investigation. Often, multiple witnesses with identical stories must corroborate a crime. As noted in the link above, two individuals can see the same crime yet disagree on the details.
Can you sneeze on command? Didn’t think so. Can you stop a sneeze once the sensation inevitably hits you? Also probably not. We sneeze automatically as a response to allergens and irritation in our airways. Our brains recognize pathogens attempting to enter our bodies via nasal passages and force the “bad guys” out before we even have to think about it.
Our brains are programmed to automatically keep us safe.
4. Become Anxious
We typically associate the feeling of anxiety as being a negative reaction, but that’s not always the case. Anxiety is another way our brains automatically attempt to protect us. It traces back to the fight-or-flight response all humans inherently have. As we discuss in The Origins of “Trust Your Gut,” the hypothalamus region of the brain forms these feelings as a way to warn us of danger.
Dark alleys at night? A person walking a little too close behind you? Your brain automatically senses the danger, resulting in situational anxiety that lets you know something is up.
Did you know that the average person blinks up to 29,000 times a day? That’s a lot of time with your eyes closed. So much that reports state that we may spend as much 10% of our time awake with our eyes closed. Why so much and how come we never notice?
We blink to keep our eyes from drying out, to protect them from allergens in the air, and to help us think harder. One study explains that people blink most frequently when their attention is fading, or at the conclusion of a thought. It helps our minds refocus on the task at hand instead of trailing off into the land of day dreams.
Countless Other Actions
This is not a comprehensive list of things humans can do automatically. There are countless actions that we don’t think about that keep us running. These include breathing, maintaining balance, scratching an itch, licking our lips, and the list goes on. Start thinking about the things you don’t think about. It’s bound to surprise you.