#1. What You’re Wearing
Researchers tested a group of participants on their brainpower with something called a Stroop test. The only difference between them was that half of them were dressed in a lab coat when they took the test. The results? Those wearing the lab coats only made half the mistakes of those who didn’t wear the coats.
Just to make sure this wasn’t some insane fluke, they made another test, where participants had to find the differences between similar pictures. Some of the participants wore lab coats, but some of them were told they were actually wearing painters’ coats. Again, they found that those who were wearing the lab coats scored significantly higher, even than those who were wearing the same thing but were told they were for painters. What the hell?
The researchers believe that wearing a lab coat simply makes us feel smarter, and as other psychologists have found, simply believing you’re smarter actually makes you smarter.
#2. Being in a Terrible Mood
Everyone prefers to go to work and come home feeling happy. It’s just not always achievable, and indeed, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys your job that much, then you’ll find that most people just want to cut you. But hold it right there, Smiles McHappyWorker — the Negative Nancy in your office is head and shoulders over you intellectually.
In one, Australian researcher Joe Forgas found that “angst and sadness promote ‘information-processing strategies best suited to dealing with more-demanding situations’.” Forgas made participants watch short films about death and cancer, inducing a melancholy mood, and found that those subjected to the depressing short films made fewer arithmetic mistakes and had better judgement in general — they were better at recalling past events and judging the accuracy of rumors, and became less likely to judge strangers.
Then another study from the Columbia Business School found that the act of frowning makes you more attentive and detail-oriented, thus helping you avoid your gut reaction when what you really need to do is think. Researchers had participants in the study give speeches about their dream jobs, and had listeners respond either positively, nodding and smiling, or negatively, shaking their head and frowning. They were then told to record their mood afterward and create a collage. Obviously, the participants who just had to endure a cruel session of harsh judgement as stony-faced scientists stomped on their dreams reported being in a worse mood afterward. These same participants, however, became more focused on their collage, and thus churned out better, more creative work. We just think better when we’re miserable.
Researchers at the University of Amsterdam have actually discovered that the nicotine found in cigarettes enhances both learning and memory. Since learning and memory are key areas of loss in Alzheimer’s patients, researchers tested nicotine patches on elderly people with Alzheimer’s, and found that after regular doses, they were two times faster and significantly more consistent at answering memory-based questions than the control group.
The researchers found that the nicotine was able to do this by improving communication among the learning centers in the brain. But, chances are that, if you still remember the beginning of this sentence, you probably don’t have Alzheimer’s. So this doesn’t apply to regular people, right?
Well, good news! Researchers pumped nicotine into adolescent mice, then tested them on spatial learning and memory later in their adult life and found that those who had received small, steady levels of nicotine learned faster and performed significantly better — months later.