Dean Burnett: His “Idiot Brain” and Ours

If an “irreverent guide to the brain” is what you’re seeking, says Kirkus Reviews, British neuroscientist and sometimes comic Dean Burnett has written Idiot Brain: What Your Head Is Really Up To (2016). Or maybe it’s the book you’d rather give as a gift.

Dean Burnett professes the following about the brain: “It’s undeniably impressive, but it’s far from perfect, and these imperfections influence everything humans say, do and experience.”

Some of the questions posed and answered:

Why do we remember faces before names? Why do our egos often override accuracy? Why do emotional memories of negative events fade faster than positive ones? How is it that you can enter a room and have no idea why you decided to go there? Did you know that the thrill of fear and the gratification gained from sweets emanate from the same region (the mesolimbic pathway) of the brain?

Some interesting conclusions by Dean Burnett (with sources in parentheses):

Less intelligent people are often more confident. (Kirkus)

The Myers-Briggs personality test may not be that useful. (Kirkus)

Motion sickness is caused by the brain reading the mismatch between seeing a landscape move and the body feeling still. (Publishers Weekly)

Anger can reduce stress. (Leyla Sanai, Independent)

The brain often chooses being liked over doing what we believe to be correct. (Independent)

We tend to embellish our memories if we’re telling someone about it. (Terry Gross interview, NPR)

Anything longer than a minute is long-term memory. (NPR)

Finally, a little side note, a point made to Terry Gross about the post Burnett considers the most controversial ever on his blog (which he writes for The Guardian and is called “Brain Flapping”): Not transgender issues or immigration or same-sex marriage, all of which he’s written about, but “whether or not you should put milk in your tea before the water or after.”

Selected Reviews

Publishers Weekly: “…[Burnett] packs an incredible amount of information into an accessible package with this breezy, charming collection of pop neuroscience musings on ‘how the human brain does its own thing despite everything the modern world can throw at it.’”

Bookish: “We love a good brain book, and Idiot Brain by Dean Burnett might just be our new favorite.”

David McRaney, author of You Are Not So Smart: “In Idiot Brain, neuroscientist Dean Burnett doesn’t just explain the weird inner workings of our brain’s most bizarre bits and pieces in terms that we can understand, he explains them in terms we can laugh at, and relate to. If you’ve ever wanted to sit down with a neuroscientist, have a few drinks, ask a zillion questions, and laugh until you snorted, read this book.”

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