1. Doors–Do you ever walk into a room with some purpose in mind only to completely forget what that purpose was? It turns out that doors themselves are to blame. Psychologists found that passing through a doorway triggers what’s known as an “event boundary” in the mind. It separates one set of thoughts and memories from the next, just as exiting through a doorway signals the end of a scene in a movie. Your brain files away the thoughts you had in the room before, and prepares a clean slate for the new room. Mental event boundaries usually help us organize our thoughts and memories as we move through the world, but when we’re trying to remember that thing we went in there to do, it can be frustrating.
2. Beeps–Which bothers you more: the whine of a digital alarm clock, the sound of a truck backing up, or the smoke detector letting you know it’s running out of batteries? Well, they’re all terrible. Beeps are extremely irritating because each one creates a tiny brain fart. Natural sounds are created from a transfer of energy, from one object hitting another, like a stick hitting a drum. The energy is transferred into the drum and then gradually disappears over time. We use that to let us know what’s going on, to figure out what made the sound and where it came from. But beep sounds are like cars driving at 60 mph then suddenly hitting a wall. The sound doesn’t change over time and it doesn’t fade away, so our brains are confused about what they are and where they’re coming from.
3. Photos–We consciously “get” photographs, but our subconscious brains can’t quite separate them from the objects or people in the pictures. Example: Studies show that people are much less accurate when throwing darts at pictures of JFK, babies, or people they like than when throwing darts at Hitler or their worst enemy. Another study found that people start to sweat profusely when asked to cut up photographs of their cherished childhood possessions. It seems that our brains fail when it comes to separating appearance from reality.
4. Phones–Do you ever feel your phone vibrating only to see that nobody is calling or texting? These are called “phantom vibrations” and they’re caused by you! It’s because your brain is jumping to wrong conclusions to try to make sense of the chaos that is your life. Brains are bombarded with “sensory data” so they have to filter out useless noise and pick up on the important signals. Our brains misinterpret everything from the rustle of clothing to the growling of a stomach, which makes it easy to understand why sometimes, we think we’re getting a call or text.
5. Wheels–Ever notice how car wheels can look like they’re spinning backwards in the movies? It’s actually a brain trick. Movie cameras catch still images of a scene, then the brain fills in the gaps between those images by creating the illusion of continuous motion. Wheels can also appear to spin backwards in real life, too, which is weirder. That’s called the “continuous wagon wheel illusion”. The brain takes snapshots, like a movie camera. So our brains are basically filming their own movies of the external world, but not always at a fast enough frame rate to see things like wheels spinning the right way.