If you’re a biology student that can’t pronounce ‘subdermatoglyphic’ without stuttering or a history nerd that has a hard time spelling the names of all of those Soviet leaders, don’t sweat it. Because whether you’re a bored biologist or a hot mess of a historian (or anything in between) we’re here to tell you that you’ve got a brain you can be proud of.
Here are eight surprising facts about your brain that’ll make you trust it enough to put down the coffee, move away from the keyboard and have a well-deserved break from revision.
You start remembering things when you are IN THE WOMB
That’s right. There is such a thing as prenatal memory and it begins before you are even born. Despite the fact we can recall little of our time inside our mother’s bodies, studies suggest that short-term memory could be present in fetuses that are only 30 weeks old. So if you could remember things as a 30-week old fetus, then you sure as hell can remember enough to get you through your next exam.
Your brain capacity is BIG - and we mean BIG
According to Paul Weber, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University your brain (unlike your basic package iPhone) has a lot of storage space. Your brain consists of around one billion neurons and each of these neurons form connections to about 1000 other neurons - this adds up to a TRILLION connections. These neurons all combine with each other, which means that your brain’s storage capacity looks something like 2.5 petabytes aka a million gigabytes.
For everyone that doesn’t live with their nose in a scientific journal, Weber explains that this is the equivalent of three million hours of TV shows. It would take 300 years of constantly running the TV to play out all of those shows. So, what was your excuse again?
BUT it can forget things fast
Unfortunately, though, your short term memory is pretty rubbish. And that’s not an attack on you, it’s just the way the brain works. In fact, when memories aren’t rehearsed or actively kept up, they disappear within 20 to 30 seconds. In a research paper published in 1956, psychologist George Miller theorised that the brain’s short-term memory capacity for storing a list of objects worked out at between five and nine items. So if you just can’t seem to remember something, chalk it up to brain biology.
And the amnesia you see in films is far from reality
And while we’re on the topic of remembering, let us bust a memory myth. Do you know how in the movies a character develops amnesia only to remember everything at the end of the film? Yeah, that doesn’t really happen. There are two types of amnesia that can occur in your brain: anterograde amnesia, this is when you’re unable to form new memories and retrograde amnesia, which is when you can’t remember past memories. Unlike on screen, anterograde amnesia is actually a lot more common.
Your brain thrives with a workout
It’s not just your biceps that should be pumping iron. Your brain power increases with a good workout too. The more often you try and think about a memory, the more likely you are to remember it accurately (revisers take note). But you can also do ‘nuerobic exercises’ that are like a hard-core gym session for your cerebral matter. These workouts include activities like brushing your teeth with the opposite hand, showering with your eyes closed and switching from your usual seat at the dinner table, which apparently helps keep your brain turned on.
Your brain slows down in your late 20s
If, like most students, you’re in your early 20s make the most of this special time. Right now your brain is as good as it’s going to get. So suck it up and get out those post-it notes. Studies have shown that your brain power peaks at the age of 22 (right around graduation time, lucky you) and starts to go downhill from the age of 27 onwards.
Scent is a powerful brain trigger
Ever wonder why you can’t smell a certain perfume without thinking about your high school girlfriend? When it comes to remembering, smells have a seriously strong influence. The olfactory nerve (the nerve that relates to your sense of smell) is located right next to the amygdala (the part of the brain that is linked to emotions and emotional memory) and the olfactory is also pretty close to the hippocampus (the memory centre). So your ability to smell things is all tied up with your ability to remember. Makes scents.
Your brain can come out of your nose
But only if it’s liquified. In the mummification process, Ancient Egyptians used to remove the brains of the dead through the nose using a hook-like tool. This is because the brain wasn’t perceived as particularly important. It was deemed useless in the afterlife and so it was gotten rid of. So next time you feel like your brain is melting from exam overload, just think of those poor melted mummies and we guarantee you’ll perk up.
So there you have it, a list of just some of the weird and wonderful things that your brain can do. With a little faith in your brain, we know you’ll breeze through this exam season. Still not convinced? Here are some secret revision techniques that actually work.