It’s no surprise that drugs, stress, and watching too much boob tube–that’s TV for you youngsters–lowers your intelligence. But, you may be surprised to learn what others things numb the mind and dull the senses (your good sense, anyway). Keep reading to find out!
Research by Columbia University found that using Google affects our memory–not necessarily if we remember things, but rather how we remember them. An excerpt from the study, titled Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips, explains:
“The advent of the Internet, with sophisticated algorithmic search engines, has made accessing information as easy as lifting a finger. No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want. We can Google the old classmate, find articles online, or look up the actor who was on the tip of our tongue. The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.”
Ironically, there’s also evidence that suggests using search engines makes us smarter–particularly if you’re middle-aged or elderly. Using Google requires “complicated brain activity” that “may help improve brain function,” said Dr. Gary Small, director of UCLA’s Memory and Aging Research Center. “Our most striking finding was that Internet searching appears to engage a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading — but only in those with prior Internet experience,” Small added.
A study from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin found that study subjects whose smartphones were not in the room with them performed better on a variety of tasks testing their cognitive abilities than subjects who had their phones with them–either in their pocket, in a bag, or face up on a desk.
The reason why might surprise you: “It’s not that participants were distracted because they were getting notifications on their phones,” noted study author Adrian Ward. “The mere presence of their smartphone was enough to reduce their cognitive capacity.” This holds true even when the phone is turned off! “We see a linear trend that suggests that as the smartphone becomes more noticeable, participants’ available cognitive capacity decreases,” Ward added. “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. It’s a brain drain.”
The experiments were conducted with nearly 800 smartphone users.
3. College Fraternities
Being in a fraternity can lower your GPA by as much as 0.25 points, according to a paper published by two professors and a former student from Union College in Schenectady, New York. One explanation offered for these findings is that the students “may be less capable of balancing their academic lives and the demands of fraternity social life,” the paper, titled Social Animal House: The Economic and Academic Consequences of Fraternity Membership, concluded.
Surprisingly, alcohol consumption only accounted for a 0.02-point drop in GPA. “This suggests that, despite its visibility, alcohol consumption plays a relatively minor role in the reduced academic achievement of fraternity members,” the paper concluded.
On a positive note, being in a fraternity increases future income levels by approximately 36 percent. “Thus, it appears that the negative impact of fraternity membership on human capital accumulation is more than offset by its effect on the formation of social capital,” the researchers noted.
One thing to keep in mind is that the data collected came from a single college. While the findings “may have limited external validity… we find no reason to believe that the trade-off between human and social capital accumulation that we identify would be qualitatively different at other institutions,” the researchers wrote.
2. Unhealthy Diet
Poor diet habits can adversely affect cognitive performance. Research shows that high doses of sugar have a negative impact on your brain cells. According to sleep medicine specialist and neurologist Allen Towfigh, having diabetes increases your risk of developing dementia.
But it’s not just sugar you have to worry about. Terry Davidson, psychologist and director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at American University in Washington, D.C., notes that a diet high in BOTH sugar AND saturated fat can affect your brain. Davidson used findings from a 2015 study in the Journal of Pediatrics that shows that obese kids perform more poorly on long-term memory tasks than kids who aren’t obese.
Need more proof? A 2016 study from the Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience found that obese people have less white matter–the tissue that makes up more than half of the human brain and plays an important role in focusing, problem solving, walking, balance, and mood–than leaner folks. Another study, conducted by Lucy Cheke, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge, found that obese people were more likely to be forgetful. If you’re obese, you’re “10 to 15 to 20 percent more likely to not quite remember where you put your keys,” she notes.
1. (Men) Interacting With Women
Interacting with women can make you stupid, if you’re a heterosexual male, that is. Research suggests that cognitive performance diminishes when men interact with, or even anticipate interacting with, someone of the opposite sex. This was especially true when the man found the woman highly attractive.” Even the most subtle form of exposure to a potential mate can diminish men’s cognitive performance, even if she is nothing more than a name on a computer screen,” the study also found.
A few possible explanations were offered (although the team admits that “more research is needed to investigate the exact processes that play a role in the cognitive impairment effect, and to study if it occurs in other groups of participants, such as in gay men”):
-Cognitive performance diminished because they were trying to make a good impression.
-The men felt pressured by traditional sex roles (i.e. being expected to take the initiative in mixed-gender interactions).
-More cognitive control is required in interactions involving the opposite sex because people are more comfortable interacting with people of the same sex.
FYI: The cognitive performance of the women does not decline when they interact with the opposite sex.
It’s hard to believe that simple, everyday tasks such as the ones listed above impair our intelligence. But, there are things we can do about. From watching what we eat to managing our addiction to technology, there are steps we can take to counteract these effects.