We always assume that humans are getting smarter all the time, but we may really be getting dumber. In fact, human brains are actually SHRINKING, despite the fact that our heads are actually getting LARGER. And why do so many people do two--or more--things at once, like read a book while watch TV (or--and this is dangerous--text while driving). Studies show that the brain can't fully focus on more than one task at a time, but it turns out it makes us FEEL good.
Studies of college students show that multitasking gave them an emotional "high," even when it hurt their studying. Researcher Zheng Wang says, "There's this myth among some people that multitasking makes them more productive, but they seem to be misperceiving the positive feelings they get from multitasking. They are not being more productive--they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work." In other words, it FEELS like you get more done, but you really DON'T.
On the Discover website, Kathleen McAuliffe quotes anthropologist John Hawks as saying that it's clear that "the (human) brain has been shrinking. (Our brains were getting bigger) for 2 million years of our evolution. but there has been a reversal."
McAuliffe writes: "Some believe the erosion of our gray matter means that modern humans are indeed getting dumber, (while) other authorities argue just the opposite: As the brain shrank, its wiring became more efficient, transforming us into quicker, more agile thinkers."
Like so many other things, brain shrinkage may be attributed to climate change. A warming trend in the earth’s climate began 20,000 years ago. Heavy bodies are better at conserving heat, but as the planet warmed, evolution may have favored smaller people, so skeletons and skulls shrank as the temperature rose, and the brain got smaller in the process.
Another theory attributes brain shrinkage to the invention of agriculture, which originally made nutrition worse. The grain-heavy diet of early farmers was deficient in protein and vitamins which critical for the growth of the body and brain.
McAuliffe writes: "I am hit with the next surprise in our human evolutionary narrative: After a long, slow retrenchment, human brain size appears to be rising again. When anthropologist Richard Jantz of the University of Tennessee measured the craniums of Americans of European and African descent from colonial times up to the late 20th century, he found that brain volume was once again moving upward."
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