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Human Brain Stats

In almost every emotional intelligence book, you will find a brief introduction about some brain parts who interact together to transform emotions into actions. Thus, this article will highlight a deeper look at the brain functions and will shed some insights about the following subjects:
  • What happens when we sleep?
  • What is stress and how to detect it?
  • How do we memorize and forget things?
  • How do we perceive something?
To make it clear, and until today, the scientists do not have a clear understanding of how the brain functions in terms of rules. Every brain is different than the other, even for the simplest daily functions and under the same circumstances, but, there is a common pattern of things that happen in the brain which gave the scientists hints about the way the brain parts were developed and interact together.

Brain Development and Basic Functions

To understand the subject in details, we need to understand what is the brain, what are the main parts of our brain and what are their main functions. We will not have a brain anatomy here rather than basic and high-level understanding of the brain parts using the English language not the medical one, only few medical terms are required.

Let's start with the following drawing that highlights our three focus parts:

human brain main parts, human brain statistics, how our brain works, amygdala, neocortex, hypocampus, hippothalamus, what happens when we sleep
Human Brain Main Parts

Scientists believe that first creatures on earth, the reptiles, were born with only the brain stem which is part of any creature brain, than this reptilian system developed and grew through the phases that those reptiles lived and learned from their environment. 

After that, mammals were born with a new brain part, which is the lymbic system, involving mainly the emotions in addition to the brain stem.

Later on and after few hundreds of thousands of years, humans were born as a natural progress of brain development with their neocortex as a main additional brain part responsible for analyzing and thinking.

Human Brain Functions

We will focus in this article on the some, not all, brain parts who play a major role in the processing related to our article rather than all. Our main target is to analyze how emotional intelligence works and for that, we will need to know how the system works as a whole and in parts, briefly, not in details:

  • Brain Stem functions: Always active, responsible of the housekeeping chores like breathing, heart rate, sleeping and waking up. This system was responsible of survival and reproduction of oldest creatures.
  • Mammalian Brain: Responsible for emotions and their corresponding memories
    • Amygdala: creation of emotions and the memories they generate. This is one of the two VIP parts of emotional intelligence
    • Hippocampus: Converts short-term memories into long-term forms
    • Thalamus: This is the control tower of our 5 senses processing and routing signals
    • Hippothalamus: Controls body temperature, hunger, fatigue and sleep
  • NeoCortex: Human logic brain thinking and analysis. It receives the input from other parts and starts analyzing and taking decisions
    • PreFrontal Lobe: Solving problems, maintaining attention, inhibiting emotional impulses. This is the also one of the two VIP parts of emotional intelligence.
    • Frontal Lobe: Thinking and imagination
    • Parietal Lobe: Relating to a person's awareness of the position and movement of the parts of the body by means of sensory organs in the muscles and joints
    • Occipital Lobe: Visual processing
    • Temoral Lobe: Sound and speech processing

Neurons and Nerve Cells

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Nerve Cell or Neuron

This is the smallest body in your brain containing the Nucleus, which contains our DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid). I promise you there won't be anymore medical terms. Purely normal English.

Every single action happening inside our brains is transferred between those neurons as an electric signal. It passes through billions of neurons and could generate different outputs for the same inputs. That means, in the same environment, under the same circumstances, for the same event, one act can be perceived differently in two separate minds, even if those minds are for twins. We will talk about perception later on in this article.

Human Brain Stats

Here's a list of stats extracted from several books about our brain, of which some could be useful for us:
  • Survival Stats:
    • You have few seconds to grab someone's attention, and ten minutes to keep it. At 9 minutes and 59 seconds, you must do something to regain attention and restart the timer
    • In one study, a 26-minute nap improved NASA pilot's performance by 34%
    • Our brains are designed to solve problems related to surviving in an unstable outdoor environment and to do so in nearly in constant motion
    • In terms of multitasking when it comes to paying attention, it is literally impossible for our brains to multitask. Example, talking on your phone while driving
  • Exercising Stats: 
    • Our ancestors moved daily 12 miles in average, says the anthropologist Richard Wrangham
    • One predictor of how well we age is the presence and absence of sedentary lifestyle
    • 30 minutes of aerobic exercises two or three times a week, with a strengthening regimen will benefit your cognitive skills. Exercising too intensely to exhaustion can hurt cognition
    • To reduce the risks of dementia by 50% or Alzheimer by 60%, you have to participate in some form of aerobic exercises just twice a week. Other exercises are also possible
    • Our brains consume 20% of our body's energy even though the brain consists of 2% only of our bodies
    • Human brains cannot activate more than 2% of neurons at one time
    • Exercising provides your body a greater access to the oxygen and the food by energizing the blood vessels, and this is by bringing it glucose for energy and oxygen to dismiss the toxic electrons
  • Sleeping Stats:
    • About 20 families in the world suffer from Fatal Familial Insomnia (no capability to sleep), making this disease one of the rarest genetic disorders
    • The 36th president of US, Lyndon Baines Johnson routinely closed his office door to take a 30-minuted nap in the midafternoon
    • One NASA study showed that a 26-minute nap reduced a flight crew's lapses awareness by 34%. Nappers also saw a 16% improvement in reaction times. 
    • Another study showed that 45-minute nap produces a boost in cognitive performance that can last more than 6 hours
    • A student can have a troublesome academic fall by getting less than 7-hours sleep per night
    • A soldier responsible for complex military hardware losing one night of sleep results in about 30% loss in cognitive skills with a subsequent drop in performance
    • Another study showed that when sleep was restricted to 6 hours or less per night for just 5 nights, cognitive performance matched that of a person suffering from 48 hours of continual sleep deprivation
    • When people become sleep deprived, the ability of their body to use the food they are consuming falls about 1/3. And that affects the aging process if you maintain such deprivation
  • Stress Stats:
    • One study showed that stressed people are 3 times more likely to suffer from the common cold, especially if the stress was social in nature and lasted more than a month
    • Memories of stressful experiences are formed instantaneously in the brain and can be recalled very quickly during times of crises
    • Conflicts at home can cause stress for students and cause grade failures
    • The American Stress Institute estimates that American businesses lose $300 billion every year because of work-related stress. Sources of that loss include health related costs, worker compensation bills, employee turnover, and absenteeism
  • Memory Stats:
    • People usually forget 90% of what they learn in a class within 30 days. And the majority of this forgetting occurs within the first few hours after class
    • Researcher Ebbinghaus showed that one could increase the life span of a memory by repeating the information in timed intervals
    • In a remembering experiments, the group of people who focused on the meaning of words displayed can remember 2 to 3 times the words more than the group who focused on the shape of the words

What happens when we sleep?

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What happens when we sleep?

First, you need to know that your brain doesn't sleep while you are sleeping. There is a battle going on inside your brain when sleeping: two processes of neurons, hormones and chemicals fight with each other, one to keep you awake and another to put you to sleep.

Process "C" is an arousal system that keeps us awake. It has to win over process "S", the sleep drive, to keep you awake. The war continues for ever and both processes exchange the winning and loss of battles once they get exhausted. I you sleep for a long time, the process "S" will be exhausted from his battle fight for a long time and has to raise the white flag and cede the field for process "C" so that you will wake up.

While sleeping, human brains appeared to replay certain learning experiences. It is possible that the reason we need to sleep is simply to shut off the exterior world for a while, allow us to divert more attention to our cognitive interiors.

What is Stress and how to detect it?

Not all stress is the same, some types hurt learning and other types boost learning. 
Researchers Jeansok Kim and David Diamond came up with a rule: If the following 3 definitions happens simultaneously, then a person is stressed:
  1. A measurable physiological response: a situation that another party can notice and measure easily on someone that is horrified or scared from something
  2. A desire to avoid the situation: such stressing situation should be, if given the choice, avoided and not experimented at all
  3. A loss of control: the more the loss of control, the more severe the stress is perceived to be
human brain main parts, neurons, nerve cells, human brain statistics, how our brain works, amygdala, neocortex, hypocampus, hippothalamus, what happens when we sleep
What is stress and how to detect it

When we are stressed, the adrenaline hormone is at work. So when your hypothalamus receives sensory signals that requires stress, it sends commands to your adrenal glands to dump adrenaline into your bloodstream. To return to our normal situation, the same adrenal glands release another substance called cortisol which have an opposite effect of adrenaline, and will act as the second defensive system , after the adrenaline, and calm us down by removing the unpleasant aspects of stress.

Our bodies are built for a stress than can last only seconds, and without the effect of the anti-stress reaction, we might die from stress. At first, stress response activates the white blood cells and sends them to fight on the most vulnerable areas, but chronic stresses can kill those white cells and weaken the immune systems in our bodies.

Both, adrenaline and cortisol are considered stress reactions, and if released in non-regulated dozes, they can be given access to some neurons and kill them. Thus, our bodies release a third heroic substance called BDNF, which is responsible of peacekeeping for neurons and the stress will bot be able to damage our brains in its presence.

How do we memorize and forget things?

There are people on earth gifted with memories that can remember things, numbers, symbols, and events exactly as they happened even after 20 years or more. They can remember on a short and long term. And there are few people, who forget a name you give them even after less than a minute. Every minute you have to remind them of your face or name so that they recognize it.

Scientists noticed that brain memories can be categorized by duration. Some are short term memories awakened when necessary, and some are long term memories also awakened when necessary.
There is not a specific place to store memories in our brain and the way we store information is different from one person to another. Also, the way we recall information from old memories differ from one person to another but the common thing is that all brains use electric circuits to drive the information learned to areas of our brain parts for them to be stored and recalled later on.

Since the human brains are born to survival striving, memories provide a huge help for that noble role. Imagine our ancestors and old creatures who lived on earth and how they managed to avoid risks of danger or predators for the third time. If they didn't have a memory to recall when the danger occurs, they have been dead in that event.

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Memory Types: Declarative and Non-Declarative

Memories can also be categorized in two types: The first type is the one you use to retrieve a number like your ID number named declarative type, and another one that you use to retrieve the process of riding a horse. I bet now you are thinking that these two types are totally different, simply because there is no defined list of instructions that you recall to practice riding the horse.

Forgetting allows us to prioritize information stored in our brains. Priorities define the importance of the information, so, when we repeat the event immediately after it happens, we are giving a higher priority to that piece of information and higher probability of recalling it from its storage location several times in the future. This will guarantee that it is saved in the memory and not replace by another pieces of information.

How do we perceive something

There are two brain perception models that scientists discovered which, logically, are based on our 5 senses: vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. When those senses work separately or together, we start analyzing the input information in our brains starting with the thalamus, which supervises the sensory information and transmits them to the neocortex for executive decision making.

The models can be depicted similarly to a battlefield like the following:
  • Centralized model that collects field information and sends them back to the central room for processing
  • Non-centralized model that collects the information and takes decision in the field before sending it back to the central room for more analysis
The route of sending the information back to the central neocortex room differs from one person to another and from one event to another. When events trigger emotions, than amygdala plays a major role of first analysis and can trigger also immediate action based on how it translates the sensory information from its memory database.

Resources: Brain Rules book for John Medina

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