These brain facts dispel many brain myths that linger from the past. Learn how the brain works, for better (or worse). All facts have original references.
The study of the human brain has been called the last frontier in science.
The field of neuroscience is still in its infancy, but is rapidly exploding — turning yesterday’s brain “facts” into today’s brain “myths.”
Experts agree there is more we don’t know about the brain than we currently know. (1)
Here are some of the most interesting brain facts backed by science.
Some will fill you with awe.
Some will make you pause and think.
Others will make you realize what an imperfect “machine” we’ve got running the show.
We think at least a few of these will … Blow. Your. Mind.
Human Brain Facts by the Numbers
The most complex entity known resides between your ears.
Here are some of the fascinating facts and figures about the human brain.
1. The typical brain is about 2% of a body’s weight but uses 20% of its total energy and oxygen intake. (2)
3. Ninety minutes of sweating can temporarily shrink the brain as much as one year of aging. (5)
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4. Your brain weighs about 3 pounds. Of that, the dry weight is 60% fat, making your brain the fattiest organ. (6)
5. Twenty-five percent of the body’s cholesterol resides within the brain. Cholesterol is an integral part of every brain cell. Without adequate cholesterol, brain cells die. (7)
6. No one knows for sure, but the latest estimate is that our brains contain roughly 86 billion brain cells. (8)
7. Each neuron connects with, on average, 40,000 synapses. (9)
8. A piece of brain tissue the size of a grain of sand contains 100,000 neurons and 1 billion synapses all communicating with each other. (10)
9. All brain cells are not alike. There are as many as 10,000 specific types of neurons in the brain. (11)
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10. Only 5 minutes without oxygen can cause brain damage. (12)
11. Babies have big heads to hold rapidly growing brains. A 2-year-old’s brain is 80% of adult size. (13)
12. As any parent can attest, teenage brains are not fully formed. It isn’t until about the age of 25 that the human brain reaches full maturity. (14)
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16. More than 100,000 chemical reactions take place in your brain every second. (21)
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17. In general, men’s brains are 10% bigger than women’s, even after taking into account larger body size. (22)
18. Albert Einstein’s brain weighed 2.71 pounds (1,230 grams) — 10% smaller than the average of 3 pounds (1,400 grams). (23) However, the neuron density of his brain was greater than average.
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19. Neanderthal brains were 10% larger than our homo sapiens brains. (24)
20. Humans don’t have the biggest brains. That honor belongs to sperm whales with 17-pound brains. (25)
The Effects of Modern Lifestyle on Our Brains
Our modern lifestyle is changing our brains. There’s some evidence it’s not all for the better.
21. Our brains are getting smaller. Over the past 10-20,000 years, the size of the average human brain has shrunk by the size of a tennis ball. (26)
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23. Multitasking makes you less productive. When you multitask, your brain simply rapidly toggles back and forth between tasks. This results in decreases in attention span, learning, performance, and short-term memory. (28)
24. Surprisingly, millennials (aged 18 to 34) are more forgetful than baby boomers. They are more likely to forget what day it is or where they put their keys than their parents! (29)
26. Our attention spans are getting shorter. In 2000, the average attention span was 12 seconds. Now it’s 8 seconds. That’s shorter than the 9-second attention span of the average goldfish. (32)
27. Brain cells cannibalize themselves as a last ditch source of energy to ward off starvation. So in very real ways dieting can force your brain to eat itself. (33)
28. Your brain’s storage capacity is considered virtually unlimited. It doesn’t get “used up” like RAM in your computer. (34)
Brain Myths Debunked
Rapid advancements in neuroscience means information gets outdated fast.
That’s one of the reasons there’s a lot of misinformation floating around about the brain.
Here are some well-accepted brain “facts” that have been proven to no longer be true.
30. There is no such thing as a left-brain or right-brain personality type. We are not left-brained or right-brained; we are “whole brained.” (See #29.)
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31. In spite of what you’ve been told, alcohol doesn’t kill brain cells. It “only” damages the connective tissue at the end of neurons. (37)
32. The Mozart Effect has been debunked. While listening to certain kinds of music can improve memory and concentration, there’s nothing unique about listening to Mozart. (38)
33. You may have heard that we have more brain cells than there are stars in the Milky Way, but this is not true. Best guess estimates are that we have 86 billion neurons and there are 200-400 billion stars in the Milky Way. (39)
34. It’s often said there are 10,000 miles of blood vessels in the brain when, in fact, that number is closer to 400 miles. Still a substantial amount! (40)
35. Contrary to prevailing medical belief, having high total cholesterol is not bad for your brain. In fact, it actually reduces your risk of dementia. (41)
Facts About Memory
It was once thought our brain recorded memories like a camera, but this is not how memory works.
Our memories work less like a digital recording and more like listening to live improvisational jazz.
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36. Memories are shockingly unreliable. Emotions, motivation, cues, context and frequency of use can all affect how accurately you remember something. (42)
37. Memory is more of an activity than a place. Any given memory is deconstructed and distributed in different parts of the brain. Then, for the memory to be recalled, it gets reconstructed from the individual fragments. (43)
38. Your brain starts slowing down at the ripe old age of 24 but peaks for different cognitive skills at different ages. In fact at any given age, you’re likely getting better at some things and worse at others. (44, 45, 46, 47)
Brain Facts That Are Just Plain Weird
Some of these brain facts have been around for a while and some are brand new, but I think you’ll find at least a few of these mind-blowing.
40. The human brain is not solid. It’s soft and squishy similar to the consistency of soft tofu or soft gelatin. And it’s very fragile. (49)
41. Sometimes half a brain is a good as a whole one. When surgeons perform a hemispherectomy, they remove or disable half of the brain to stop seizures. Shockingly, patients experience no effect on personality or memory. (50)
42. Think you’re in control of your life? Think again. 95% of your decisions take place in your subconscious mind. (51)
43. The brain in your head isn’t your only brain. There’s a “second brain” in your intestines that contains 100 million neurons. Gut bacteria are responsible for making over 30 neurotransmitters including the “happy molecule” serotonin. (52)
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44. Some scientists believe zombies could be real and that it’s possible a mutated virus or parasites could attack our brains and rapidly spread throughout large populations causing essentially a “zombie apocalypse.” (53, 54)
45. A blood-brain barrier protects your brain from foreign substances. But it doesn’t work perfectly. The nicotine in smoke rushes into the brain in a mere 7 seconds. Alcohol, on the other hand, takes 6 minutes. (55, 56)
46. Prescription sleeping pills don’t put you to sleep. They put your brain into a state similar to being in a coma, essentially bypassing any restorative value of sleep. (57)
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47. Our brains crave mental stimulation. Men especially would rather receive electric shocks than sit quietly in a room and think! (58)
48. Over 140 proteins in the brain are negatively impacted by exposure to electromagnetic frequencies — the kind emitted by your cell phone and other electronic devices. (59)
49. Although pain is processed in your brain, your brain has no pain receptors and feels no pain. This explains how brain surgery can be performed while the patient is awake with no pain or discomfort. (60)
50. Few facts about the brain are as weird as the story of Albert Einstein’s brain. The pathologist who performed Einstein’s autopsy kept the brain in a jar in his basement for 40 years. (61) Eventually he made a cross-country trip with the brain in a Tupperware container to deliver it to Einstein’s granddaughter. You can read the full story about one of the most bizarre road trips ever in Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain.
Do you know of any other amazing brain facts that we can add to this list?
Add them in the comments below — with references, please — and let’s grow this list of 50 to 100!