11 Mind Tricks You Didn’t Know You Fell For

Updated: Apr. 19, 2018

Your thoughts and behavior are surprisingly affected by seemingly unconnected ways because of the mind tricks going on in your brain.


You have an unconscious “like” around your name

Science shows we show a preference for the letters that appear in our names more than other letters. Fascinatingly, research also indicates which charities we’re more likely to support. In one study of Red Cross donations following tropical storms, 10 percent of all donations post-Hurricane Katrina came from people with “K” names, a group that had donated 4 percent to disasters previously. That’s a 150 percent increase! You can find more mind tricks in psychologist Adam Alter’s book Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave.


Descriptions can change how you remember things

Memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus has shown that description can distort memory through a number of different experiments, says Alter. In one fascinating study, participants watched a video of two cars colliding. Researchers told one group that the cars had hit each other, and the other group that the cars had smashed. A week later, the scientists asked participants if they recalled broken glass at the accident. Fourteen percent of those in the “hit” group remembered seeing glass, while a third of the “smashed” panel thought it was there. But really? There hadn’t been any glass. As Alter puts it, “the sensationalized ‘smashed’ label had replaced reality with a false memory in which the cars spilled glass following the accident.” Check out these other 50 surprising things you never knew about your own brain.


Mirrors may make you behave more morally

Researchers have found that people are more honest when forced to stare at their own mirror images, Alter writes. In one mid-70s experiment, college students were asked to unscramble a series of anagrams during a five-minute period, even though there was no way they could finish all of the puzzles during that time. The participants were told to stop working after a bell rang at the five-minute mark, or it would be considered cheating. Some did the work in front of a mirror; some couldn’t see their reflections. The fascinating results: Only 7 percent of the mirror group cheated, compared to 71 percent of the other group. “When people consider behaving badly, their mirror images become moral policemen,” says Alter.

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Hospital window views can affect a patient’s recovery

Patients recovering from gallbladder surgery at a suburban Philadelphia hospital had notably different experiences, depending on whether their rooms faced a brick wall or a small group of trees. The wall-facers needed to stay in the hospital a full day longer, on average, and also had more pain and were more likely to be depressed. Very few of the patients with the tree view needed more than one dose of a strong painkiller by the middle of their visit; whereas the wall facers required two or three doses. By some measures, Alter writes, patients who gazed at a natural scene were four times better off than those who faced a wall. Other studies have found that natural environments have had positive impacts on children with ADHD. Alter explains that “while man-made landscapes bombard us with stimulation, their natural counterparts give us the chance to think as much or as little as we’d like, the opportunity to replenish exhausted mental resources.” If weight is your health issue, try these mind tricks that help you lose weight.

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You recall more in a similar setting

If you’ve ever heard teachers advise students to study in environments as similar to their exam room as possible, this research explains why. Researchers had scuba divers memorize lists of words, sometimes they were underwater and sometimes they were on land. They found that divers who performed the task under the sea had more accurate recall while submerged than while on land, and those who did the experiment on land remembered the words better there than under the water. “Locations form a lens through which we perceive newly acquired information,” says Alter.


Bright pink calms you down

In a famous 1979 experiment, a group of healthy young men demonstrated dramatically more arm strength when they stared at a bright blue piece of cardboard compared to when they looked at a bright pink one. The study author Alexander Schauss began touting the “miraculous tranquilizing power of bright pink at public lectures across the United States,” notes Alter, and the message took off. Country jails and detention centers began to paint holding cells bubblegum pink, which became known as “drunk tank pink.” Football coaches at Colorado State and the University of Iowa even painted the visitor locker rooms pink—“in an attempt to pacify their opponents”—until athletic conferences mandated both sets of locker rooms had to be the same color.


Hot weather can make tempers flare

Experts believe that heat changes us physically (we sweat more, our hearts beat faster), and it’s easy to mistake this excitement for anger during frustrating situations. Heat also makes us uncomfortable, which can promote anger and aggression—for example, studies have also found road rage is more common on warm days than cool ones. Scientists have also observed that Major League Baseball batters are much more likely to be struck by errant pitches on hotter days than cooler ones. (Note: pitches were equally accurate on warm and cool days.) Separate research also noted that when a batter was hit by the opposing team, his pitcher retaliated. At a cool 55 degrees, pitchers struck back 22 percent of the time. However, on 95 degree days, pitchers let loose 27 percent of the time. It may not seem like a lot, Alter notes, but this means that “121 additional batters would be hit in retaliation if every day of the season peaked at 95 degrees rather than 55.”

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Your phone is distracting you, even when it’s off

Your phone doesn’t just kill your concentration you’re scrollings through Instagram. A University of Texas study found that when taking a test requiring concentration, participants did way better when their phone was in another room rather than on silent while face down on the desk, or in a pocket or bag. Another part of the study found turned-off phones were most distracting for those who admitted they felt dependent on their phones. “Your conscious mind isn’t thinking about your smartphone, but that process—the process of requiring yourself to not think about something—uses up some of your limited cognitive resources,” says study author Adrian Ward, PhD. “It’s a brain drain.” Don’t miss these other weird ways technology makes you dumber.

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Dealing with sarcasm boosts creativity

A study in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes found that sarcasm can get your creative juices flowing. Participants were either sincere, sarcastic, or neutral during a conversation, then took tests measuring creativity. Regardless of whether participants were dishing out sarcasm or taking it, those conversations led to the most creative solutions. The study authors concluded that decoding the real meaning of sarcastic phrases forces the brain to use abstract thinking, which helps creativity too.

Detail of glasses with red wine samples, on wood counter.

You’re convinced expensive wine is better

Studies show that even when the wine itself is the same, people say the ones with higher price tags taste better than the supposedly cheaper bottles. A recent University of Bonn experiment found that when looking at more expensive wines, the brain lights up more in the areas in charge of reward and motivation. So the idea that more expensive is better really is just in your head—but feels real all the same. Learn more about why expensive wine tastes better.

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Credit cards make losing money less painful

Studies show that people often spend more when paying with plastic than when using cash. “You’re not forking over a dollar bill, so there is less sensation of loss,” Duncan Simester, who authored a landmark study on the connection, told the New York Times. A more recent study found people value items more when they paid with cash. In the experiment, people bought mugs, then named the price they’d want for someone to buy it back. Those who’d paid with cash asked for almost twice as much money as the one’s who’d swiped plastic. Find out 32 more invisible ways stores trick you into spending more.