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4 Ways Your Brain is Playing Tricks on You

It puts itself on autopilot. You say:  “As I pulled into the office parking lot this morning, I realized I

It puts itself on autopilot.

You say:  “As I pulled into the office parking lot this morning, I realized I couldn’t remember anything about the drive. How is the brain able to work on autopilot like this?

From brain expert David Perlmutter, MD, FACN: The monarch butterfly has a brain smaller than a pinhead, and yet it can migrate more than 3,000 kilometres to a specific location. Your big brain can certainly allow you to drive to your office without conscious involvement-although I’m not advocating brain-dead driving. Repeated activities and behaviours create packages of information stored in the brain that, over time, become instructions when those activities are repeated. Under normal conditions, we call upon these instructions for familiar tasks and then make minor modifications moment to moment as our environment changes. If you had seen a large object in the road in front of you, your brain would click back on and you would consciously be able to steer around the hazard.
-The memory doc is brain expert David Perlmutter, MD, FACN

It confuses itself.

You say: ” About a year and a half back, I booked a last-minute flight to a business meeting. I slept for most of the flight and awoke abruptly when the plane touched down. After several minutes, I finally reached into my briefcase and checked my calendar. Aha! A meeting in Toronto. It was only during the 7-minute drive across the airfield that I realized I was at a completely different airport than I thought I was. I know I may have been a little disoriented after waking up, but why didn’t I get a clue from announcements on the plane, signs in the airport, or even the layout of the airport itself?

Dr. Perlmutter: You’ve already mentioned one important reason for your confusion-it’s common to be confused after awakening, especially when you’ve slept at a time during the day that is unusual for your biological clock.

Another important factor rings clear in your query. Your descriptions of the “last-minute flight” and preoccupation with the time constraints are clear explanations of why your mind was elsewhere. With all that going on, you were obviously relieved to find the answer to your confusion in your planner, so the rest of your brain relaxed and went along with the mistaken idea that you were at Pearson. With less stress, you probably won’t experience this again.
-The memory doc is brain expert David Perlmutter, MD, FACN

It has trouble with familiar faces.

You say: “Why do I sometimes blank on the names of totally familiar people when I try to introduce them? This happened once when I was in the mall with my best friend, and met up with another friend. I looked at the two of them, realized I couldn’t remember either of their names, and finally said, ‘Would you two please introduce yourselves?’ Why did this happen?

Dr. Perlmutter: The information was encoded firmly in your brain; the problem was with retrieving it. It could be that spotting your other friend in the mall shocked you in some small way, or you worried about how to handle the situation, and the emotion temporarily jammed your retrieval system. Totally normal.
Now, here’s the bad news: Because this has happened to you and the experience was embarrassing, any situation that requires introductions could become a source of anxiety. Then, the brain “jam” could happen again and again. It is an everyday form of stage fright. Like any actor, try to rehearse your “lines” as you see the scenario about to unfold, and you’ll be just fine.

It’s different than your husbands.

You say: “My husband can drive or be driven somewhere once and remember the route months later, even if it’s in another state. I, on the other hand, continue to get lost in my own city unless I follow a known route. Is there a sense-of-direction centre in the brain? Or does he just have a better general memory (even though he can’t remember to buy milk)?

Dr. Perlmutter: Good observation! In fact, the right parietal lobe and other areas of the brain are specifically involved in the process of learning and remembering directions and orientation. And men seem to have a better ability at this skill than women. Women, on the other hand, are more skilled at reading human emotional cues. Different people, different talents.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest