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Do You Know What Makes You Dumb?

Do our brains become what we eat, and does our cognitive efficiency get affected by our lifestyle? Modern times have certainly brought out new discoveries to improve the quality of our lives. But are these modern and growing trends, so unique to our time, really doing any good for us and our intelligence?

Check out how our cognitive ability is affected by some common factors we experience in this modern day and age:

Stupid TV Shows

“The entertainment we consume can influence our emotions and behavior” according to the study, A Story About a Stupid Person Can Make You Act Stupid (or Smart), by Markus Appel. You are what you watch and watching dumb people do dumb stuff can make you dumb, too. Researchers conducted a study where they made people watch a video called “foolish soccer hooligan” - a man who wakes up, gets drunk, goes to a soccer match and picks a fight. Another group of people watched the story’s longer version where the guy does nothing stupid. The latter beat the former at a general knowledge test.

Smartphones

As these little devices become ubiquitous and we rely on them more and more to manage our lives, what parts of our brains will go unused? Scientists say people who constantly multitask are more easily distracted. How many of us deserve a degree in Angry Birds rather than whatever course we were pursuing in college? Do you feel the sudden desperation to type “whatsupp dude” to anyone on your contact list the minute your boss starts a meeting? Blame the smartphone. Thanks to it, we just don’t have any attention span left. It also makes us think we’re super humans who can text, drive and sing - all at the same time. Although there still isn’t any neurological study to substantiate the fact that smartphones make us dumb, there are “distraction studies” aplenty. Research conducted at Stanford University in 2009 shows that multitaskers who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory, or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.”

Sugar

A UCLA study showed that steady sugar consumption for as little as six weeks “slows the brain, hampering memory and learning.” Sweet drinks scrambled the memories and stunted learning in lab rats in a new study—leading to high concern over what sugary diets may do to people, according to neuroscientist Fernando Gomez-Pinilla. For the study, Gomez-Pinilla’s team first trained rats to successfully navigate a maze, giving them only water and standard rat chow for five days. During the following six weeks, the rats’ water was replaced with syrup that was 15 percent fructose. During the six-week period, half the rodents were also given flaxseed oil and fish oil—both rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. After six weeks of the fructose syrup, all the rats were slower at running the maze. However, those that had received Omega-3s were slightly faster. By studying the dissected brains of the study rats, the researchers determined that the high-fructose diets had sabotaged the ability of synapses to change, a key factor in learning.

Stress

The Yale Stress Center concluded this year that stressful situations “can reduce the number of connections between neurons in the brain and impair the ability of managing tense events in the future”. Cumulative stress, Yale found, can cause a decrease of gray matter in the brain’s prefrontal cortex and “can impair the brain’s ability to store information and respond to the environment.”

Junk Food

A 2011 British study of nearly 4,000 children found that those who ate primarily junk food (lots of processed and fast food) at age three had a small drop in IQ five years later compared with children who ate healthier diets. Early diet choices especially seemed to affect kids’ verbal abilities. The study suggests that smart diet choices may be particularly crucial during early years of rapid brain development. Studies have found that the more junk food a kid eats at age 3, the likelier it’ll be that he has a lower IQ at age 8. At the same time, kids who ate healthier at age 3 weren’t just fitter later on, but also smarter. For children with a diet rich in Cheetos and Taco Bell, this translates into poor social, cognitive and behavioral skills, all because they lacked the necessary fats, vitamins and minerals their young brains needed to develop properly.

Alcohol

Drinking a large quantity of alcohol can overwhelm the body’s ability to break down and clear alcohol from the bloodstream. This leads to rapid increases in BAC and significantly impairs brain function. As BAC increases, so do alcohol’s effects—as well as the risk for harm.  Even small increases in BAC can decrease coordination, make a person feel sick, and cloud judgment. When BACs go even higher, amnesia or blackouts can occur. Continuing to drink despite clear signs of significant impairments can result in a potentially deadly type of overdose called alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions—such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control— begin to shut down. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include confusion, difficulty remaining conscious, and dulled responses…all of which are brain-related.

Sleep Deprivation

The single most dangerous aspect of any sleep disorder is deprivation because you have no idea that you are “compromised cognitively, physically and emotionally,” says sleep expert, Michael Breus. Sleep deprivation affects reaction time. People who operate heavy equipment or drive any kind of vehicle are likely to have dulled reaction times when sleep-deprived, making them more susceptible to mistakes and prone to accidents. In fact, recent research has found drowsy driving to be just as risky as drunk driving. How we think, retain memories, process information and make decisions is also negatively impacted by sleep deprivation.

Meetings

In businesses around the world, it’s fairly common to toss ideas around at meetings to help stimulate creative and productive activity. But a Virginia Tech study revealed that “group settings can diminish expressions of intelligence, especially among women.” It turns out that just being in meetings and group situations can drain your brain. Researchers found that when people are made to work together in small groups, their brains start freezing on them. For one, they have to focus more on interaction and behavior and two, because their status within the group is affecting their performance.

So, the more competitive the group is, the dumber some of its members will become. For the study, people with similar IQs were put into groups of five and ranked for their performance on mental tests. When the results were shown to the entire group, those who came out last started performing significantly worse for the next tests: They felt dumb compared to the rest, so they screwed up more than they would if they were working alone.

Sources: news.discovery.com, nationalgeographic.com, niaaa.nih.go, edition.cnn.com/businessinsider.com, cracked.com, Indiantimes.com