Sunday, February 10, 2013

Our Helpful Brains

Our helpful brains

I have referenced this anecdote about how wonderful our brain is on a number of occasions. Just stumbled across it again on the blog at and have borrowed it:-

You know we have wonderfully helpful brains. Just chuck it a bunch of mismatched information and it'll somehow manage to make sense of what you give it. For example you can jumble up the letters in word letter in a sentence and still make sense of it - just as long as you preserve the first and last letters. (jsut as lnog as you psrevere the fsirt and lsat ltretes).

This works for words too. Caldwell-Harris and Morris (2008) presented subjects with pairs of words in reversed order, such as 'card credit' and 'you thank'. Even though these are obviously the wrong way around, many people reported them as being the right way. Their subconscious brains heard the words and corrected them on the fly before presenting them to their conscious, which of course has only a few moments to make sense before the next thing in the stream of consciousness comes along.

The brain also helps you see things you think you should see and ignore things that do not make sense. And when it comes to memory, it gets worse as we easily forget things we just perceived (like people's names) and will swear to things happening which did not.

The bottom line is that what we think is true, even if we have just experienced it, is not necessarily so. If in doubt (and maybe if not), always look twice.

Caldwell-Harris, C. and Morris, A. (2008). Fast Pairs: A visual word recognition paradigm for measuring entrenchment, top-down effects, and subjective phenomenology. Consciousness and Cognition, 17 (4), 1063-1081.


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