How to Trick Your Brain – Literally!

The cool part about studying psychology is that you learn fascinating facts about your brain. The human brain is the most complex and fascinating object in the universe. Today’s post is therefore dedicated to the introduction of four different ways of how to trick your mind.

1. Watch a movie with a pencil in your mouth

Researchers have found that when people were rating a number of cartoons they judged them as funnier when holding a pencil between their teeth and thus, forming a smiling expression. This condition in the experiment was contrasted with the second condition, in which the participants held the pencil between the lips and the nose, thus forming a frowning expression. Participants in the frowning condition judged the cartoons as more dull and uninteresting.

This is a good example of how we infer about our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes based on whatever cues are available to us. For example, watching a cartoon, I was smiling, so I must have enjoyed it.

Motor actions of smiling, pushing, and nodding are important parts of our attitudes. When we are induced to make bodily movements associated with certain attitudes, beliefs, or emotions, we are more likely to have those thoughts that fit with the body movement. According to this theory, we find comedies funny because we laugh while watching them.

Another research was examining how head movements influence liking. Participants were given headphones and music to listen to, but then one group was instructed to nod their heads up and down to the music, and the other group was told to shake head from side to side.

Participants who were nodding to music found the songs more favorable and likable. Nodding head up and down to the music seems to be an act of enjoyment and so our brain makes an inference that we must have liked the music that we listened to.

A take-home message: If your partner makes you watch a dull comedy, put a pencil between your mouths so you like it better and don’t have to lie when he asks you what you thought of the movie. Haha, just kidding (a little bit)!

2. Take a placebo pill

I believe most of you are familiar with the placebo effect but for those who are not: Placebo effect is a phenomenon in which some people experience a benefit after the administration of an inert substance (for example, a sugar pill or saline injection) or sham treatment because they believe the drug or treatment will work. It seems like we have an inherent healing capacity in each of us, which produces most of the healing.

Psychology research suggests that under certain circumstances, a placebo can be just as effective as traditional treatments. The placebo effect is possible because of positive thinking, and believing the treatment will work thereby creating a stronger connection between the brain and the body.

However, the placebos will not cure you but they might make you feel better. Placebo treatment has been shown to be effective for mild depression but it is also beneficial for pain management and stress-related insomnia.

But do placebos work if you know you are getting one? A study examined what happens when people know they are taking a placebo pill. The results have shown that the placebo was 50% as effective as the real drug to reduce pain after a migraine attack. This means that even if you know the pill is not real medicine, the action itself can stimulate the brain into thinking the body is being healed.

Besides taking a fake pill there are some other ways to give yourself a placebo, for example, eating healthy, exercising, quality social time, meditation, yoga, and overall engaging in the ritual of healthy living can provide some of the key ingredients of a placebo effect.

3. Freeze your mood

Most of us feel much better after we express our emotions. For example, by releasing our anger, we believe to free ourselves of all hostile feelings. This is also supported by the idea of catharsis. Mood freeze can be studied in two ways:

a. Participants are made to believe that they consumed a pill that can alter their moods when, in fact, the pill is a placebo. When they are later provoked in an experimental situation, they reduce their angry outbursts (because of eating that happy pill) and say that they feel better!

b. Participants eat a placebo capsule that supposedly froze their mood. After being rejected, they reported less anger and engaged in less retaliatory aggression because the motivation to repair their mood was absent. In contrast, rejected participants without the mood freezing pill depicted higher levels of retaliatory aggressiveness.

However, you don’t have to give yourself a fake mood freezing pill to reduce your own angry outbursts the next time you get mad. By telling yourself that you don’t need to express that anger, you can derive the same positive benefit.

Results from studies on mood freezing have practical implications for violence interventions by teaching to replace the mood-improving qualities of violence and expressed anger with less damaging forms of emotional regulation.

4. Facial feedback

Facial feedback model is a theory of emotions, according to which the expression on your face helps to control the way you feel inside. Here are two great examples that can help you understand this theoretical paradigm:

I) Smile to feel better instantly: According to the facial feedback model, if you are feeling sad and blue, you might try to force a smile for a couple of minutes. This way your brain is getting signals that you’re actually happy and starts producing happy brain chemicals. Therefore, by putting a smile on your face, you are actually tricking your brain into thinking you are happy, and then, in fact, you become happier.

II) Botox treatments: Researchers studied people who had received Botox treatments, a cosmetic injection that numbs the muscles of the face. Those who have received Botox in the past were less able to empathize with the emotions of others because, supposedly, they were unable to flex their facial muscles. This could not be an a priori difference between participants as people getting Botox don’t show unusual patterns of emotion detection prior to their injections.

With this evidence, you might be able to change how you feel by forcing a facial expression that reflects the way you want to feel. Just think about the implications: if you’re mad at your partner for something you know is stupid, just turn away and put a smile on your face to avoid unnecessary fights! If family reunions are dull to you, you can just try to smile and the whole experience is guaranteed to be better!

These are some of the cool ideas from the field of psychology. I hope you learned some new and fascinating ways to trick your brain and will be able to use this information to lead a more fulfilling life. Let me know if they work for you! Stay safe.

XX, Ajda