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August 12, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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Mad Science – Why Does It Always Brain on Me?

There are many reasons why you could be feeling low right now. Perhaps you went to Briscoes on the one day a year that a sale wasn’t on. Perhaps you had placed all your bets on Kim and Kanye’s child being called South West. Or worse still, perhaps you missed out on cheap wine at the Mill and had to fork out $10.99 a bottle at New World instead. Regardless, science shows that often the culprit for your misery can actually be your own brain.

Like any Law lecturer marking exams, the human brain focusses on the negative first. Research subjects shown pictures of angry and happy faces identified the angry faces much faster. So fast, in fact, that the participants had no conscious recollection of ever having seen the faces. This makes sense from an evolutionary point of view, as we needed the ability to spot threats quickly. Giggling at cave-art comic strips instead of running from the sabre-tooth was a sure way to end up dead. On the bright side, the effect seems to reverse as we get older, hence the compulsive need to talk about how amazing things were “back in my day”.

Your brain is a real nasty piece of work—the Draco Malfoy of organs, if you like. Not only does it focus on the negative first, but your attempts to suppress negative thoughts only make them stronger. Think of something really depressing—a kitten drowning. Try to get a really clear picture of it in your mind. Now use all of your powers of concentration to eliminate all traces of them from your mind. Did it work? Probably not. Psychologists call these ‘ironic’ thought processes, whereby an individual’s deliberate attempts to suppress or avoid certain thoughts (thought suppression) render those thoughts more persistent.

Mature adults like ourselves (excluding some of the Overheard @ Vic crowd) would also rather be unhappy than uncertain. While the teenage brain craves risk-taking, the older you get, the tendency is that you become more risk-averse and so can miss out on rewards.

The key to happiness, according to a joint University of Chicago and Shanghai Jiaotong University study, is to keep busy. Their volunteers were given a survey, and then given the option of either waiting 15 minutes, or walking to a nearby location to drop it off such that walking there and back would take 15 minutes. Volunteers who chose to walk were found to be happier than those who chose to stay idle. So there you have it—while your brain will continue to be a dick, there is a solution.

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