Throughout history, scientists have proposed conflicting ideas on how the brain carries out functions like perception, memory, and movement. Is each of these tasks carried out by a specific area of the brain? Or do multiple areas work together to accomplish them? Ted Altschuler investigates both sides of the debate.
Decisions are a big part of life in the 21st century. Never before have we had to make so many of them. Online shopping means you can purchase an item from anywhere and have it delivered conveniently to your doorstep. Dating sites like OkCupid and eHarmony give access to potential romantic partners from all around the world, while Amazon brings the world’s largest product warehouse onto your computer screen. The seemingly endless options may appear to be a blessing, but under certain circumstances, you can have too much of a good thing.
Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper conducted one of the first studies demonstrating the effects of “choice overload.” Using jam, essay topics, and chocolates, they found that people were more likely to make a choice — and be happy with that choice — when presented with fewer options. Paradoxically, despite the negative effects, people found the larger choice sets more appealing and enjoyable to choose from. Some have called this phenomenon the “tyranny of choice.”
Fear of things that might actually hurt us, like the flu or smoking, is understandable and healthy. It’s the phobia of things—snakes, sharks, the youth—that pose virtually no threat at all that’s more puzzling. (The last shark attack death in the continental U.S. was in 2012. Meanwhile, 30,000 people die in car accidents every year). Even in 2013, people thought more frequently about the possibility of a terror attack in the U.S. than they did about the prospect of their own hospitalization.
An inability to process these kinds of odds ratios is one reason why some people experience irrational, sometimes crippling, unease. In an interview with New York magazine about why Ebola is sparking mass hypochondria in the U.S., Catherine Belling, an associate professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, chalked it up to a reasonable fear (you might get Ebola if you accidentally touch the bodily fluids of someone who has it) getting distorted by bad logic (you might get Ebola if you accidentally touch anyone, ever.)
So why is sleep one of the first things we’re willing to sacrifice as the demands in our lives keep rising? We continue to live by a remarkably durable myth: sleeping one hour less will give us one more hour of productivity. In reality, the research suggests that even small amounts of sleep deprivation take a significant toll on our health, our mood, our cognitive capacity and our productivity.
Many of the effects we suffer are invisible. Insufficient sleep, for example, deeply impairs our ability to consolidate and stabilize learning that occurs during the waking day. In other words, it wreaks havoc on our memory.
So how much sleep do you need? When researchers put test subjects in environments without clocks or windows and ask them to sleep any time they feel tired, 95 percent sleep between seven and eight hours out of every 24. Another 2.5 percent sleep more than eight hours. That means just 2.5 percent of us require less than 7 hours of sleep a night to feel fully rested. That’s 1 out of every 40 people.