How unconscious forces control our actionsShare using EmailShare on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Linkedin(Image credit: Spencer Whalen/Getty Images)

Some research suggests our decisions might be controlled by our subconscious, although more recent studies are questioning the thinking (Credit: Spencer Whalen/Getty Images)

By Magda Osman29th May 2021From The ConversationSubliminal messaging and nudge psychology lead us to believe that we can be influenced without us realising, but just how powerful is our unconscious mind?

Sometimes when I ask myself why I’ve made a certain choice, I realise I don’t actually know. To what extent we are ruled by things we aren’t conscious of? – Paul, 43, London

Why did you buy your car? Why did you fall in love with your partner? When we start to examine the basis of our life choices, whether they are important or fairly simple ones, we might come to the realisation that we don’t have much of a clue. We might even wonder whether we really know our own mind, and what goes on in it outside of our conscious awareness.

Luckily, psychological science gives us important and perhaps surprising insights. One of the most important findings comes from psychologist Benjamin Libet in the 1980s. He devised an experiment which was deceptively simple, but has created an enormous amount of debate ever since.

Participants were asked to sit in a relaxed manner in front of an adapted clock. On the clock face was a small light revolving around it. All those taking part had to do was to flex their finger whenever they felt the urge, and remember the position of the light on the clock face when they experienced the initial urge to move their finger. At the same time as that was all happening, the participants had their brain activity recorded via an electroencephalogram (EEG), which detects levels of electrical activity in the brain.

What Libet was able to show was that timings really matter, and they provide an important clue as to whether or not the unconscious plays a significant role in what we do. He showed that that the electrical activity in the brain built up well before people consciously intended to flex their finger, and then went on to do it.

In other words, unconscious mechanisms, through the preparation of neural activity, set us up for any action we decide to take. But this all happens before we consciously experience intending to do something. Our unconscious appears to rule all actions we ever take.Some decisions we give far more thought to than others (Credit: Alamy)

Some decisions we give far more thought to than others (Credit: Alamy)

But, as science progresses, we are able to revise and improve on what we know. We now know that there are several fundamental problems with the experimental set-up that suggest the claims that our unconscious fundamentally rules our behaviour are significantly exaggerated. For example, when correcting for biases in subjective estimates of conscious intention, the gap between conscious intentions and brain activity reduces. However, the original findings are still compelling even if they can’t be used to claim our unconscious completely rules our behaviour.

Another way of approaching the idea of whether we are ultimately ruled by our unconscious is to look at instances where we might expect unconscious manipulation to occur. In fact, in my research I asked people what those were.

The most common example was marketing and advertising. This may not be a surprise given that we often come across terms such as “subliminal advertising”, which implies that we are guided towards making consumer choices in ways that we don’t have any control over consciously.

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James Vicary, who was a marketer and psychologist in the 1950s, brought the concept to fame. He convinced a cinema owner to use his device to flash messages during a film screening. Messages such as “Drink Coca-Cola” flashed up for a 3,000th of a second. He claimed that sales of the drink shot up after the film ended. After the significant furore around the ethics of this finding, Vicary came clean and admitted the whole thing was a hoax – he had made up the data.

In fact, it is notoriously difficult to show in laboratory experiments that the flashing of words below the conscious threshold can prime us to even press buttons on a keyboard that are associated with those stimuli, let alone manipulate us into actually changing our choices in the real world.

Unconscious processes, such as intuition, function in ways that automatically and rapidly synthesise a range of complex information

The more interesting aspect around this controversy is that people still believe, as has been shown in recent studies, that methods such as subliminal advertising are in use, when in fact there is legislation protecting us from it.

But do we make decisions without consciously thinking? To find out, researchers have investigated three areas: the extent to which our choices are based on unconscious processes, whether those unconscious processes are fundamentally biased (for example, sexist or racist), and what, if anything, can be done to improve our biased, unconscious decision-making.

To the first point, a pivotal study examined whether the best choices made in consumer settings were based on active thinking or not. The startling findings were that people made better choices when not thinking at all, especially in complex consumer settings.

The researchers argued that this is because our unconscious processes are less constrained than conscious processes, which make huge demands on our cognitive system. Unconscious processes, such as intuition, function in ways that automatically and rapidly synthesise a range of complex information, and this gives an advantage over thinking deliberately.

As with the Libet study, this research motivated intense interest. Unfortunately, efforts to replicate such impressive findings were extremely difficult, not only in the original consumer contexts, but beyond into areas where unconscious processes are thought to be rife such as in unconscious lie detectionmedical decision-making, and romantically motivated risky decision-making.

That said, there are of course things that can influence our decisions and steer our thinking that we don’t always pay close attention to, such as emotions, moods, tiredness, hunger, stress and prior beliefs. But that doesn’t mean we are ruled by our unconscious – it is possible to be conscious of these factors. We can sometimes even counteract them by putting the right systems in place, or accept that they contribute to our behaviour.Changing road layouts and road markings are one way that nudge theorists have tried to manipulate people's behaviour (Credit: Alamy)

Changing road layouts and road markings are one way that nudge theorists have tried to manipulate people’s behaviour (Credit: Alamy)

But what about bias in decision-making? A highly instructive study showed that, through the use of a now widely adopted technique called the implicit association test (IAT), people harbour unconscious, biased attitudes towards other people (such as racial or gender discrimination). It also suggested that these attitudes can actually motivate biased decisions in employment practices, and legal, medical and other important decisions that affect the lives of those on the receiving end.

However, the alarm can be muted when looking more closely at research on the topic, since it shows two critical problems with the IAT. First, if you look at an individual’s test scores on the IAT at one time, and get them to do it again, the two don’t match consistently – this is known as limited test-retest reliability. Also, it has been shown that IAT results are a poor predictor of actual decision-making behaviour, which means that the test has low validity.

There have also been efforts to try to improve the way we make decisions in our day-to-day lives (such as healthy eating or saving for retirement) where our unconscious biased processes might limit our ability to do so. Here the work by Nobel laureate Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein has been revolutionary. The basic idea behind their work comes from cognitive scientist Daniel Kahneman, another Nobel prize winner, who argued that rash decisions which are primarily unconsciously motivated.

To help improve the way we make decisions, Thaler and Sunstein contend, we need to redirect unconsciously biased processes towards the better decision. The way to do this is through gently nudging people so that they can automatically detect which option is the better one to take. For example, you could make sweets less easily accessible in a supermarket than fruit. This research has been adopted globally by many public and private institutions.

We would rather claim conscious control and agency over our political voting than over what breakfast cereal we are purchasing

Recent research by my own team shows that nudge techniques often dramatically fail. They also backfire, leading to worse outcomes than if they weren’t used at all. There are several reasons for this, such as applying the wrong nudge or misunderstanding the context. It seems that more is needed to change behaviour than nudging.

That said, nudgers lead us to believe that we are more easily influenced than we think, and than we are. A fundamental aspect of our psychological experiences is the belief that we are the agents of change, be it personal circumstances (such as having a family) or external ones (such as anthropogenic climate change).

On the whole, we would rather accept that we have free choice in all manner of contexts, even when we perceive it is under threat from mechanisms unconsciously manipulating us. However, we still strategically believe we have less agency, control and responsibility in certain areas, based on how consequential they are. For example, we would rather claim conscious control and agency over our political voting than over what breakfast cereal we are purchasing.

So, we may argue that our poor breakfast choice was down to subliminal advertising. However, we are less inclined to accept being duped into voting a certain way by big tech social media forces.Subtle signals we don't always pay attention to, such as hunger or our emotions, can influence the decisions we make (Credit: Superb Images/Getty Images)

Subtle signals we don’t always pay attention to, such as hunger or our emotions, can influence the decisions we make (Credit: Superb Images/Getty Images)

Headline-grabbing scientific findings in psychology often don’t help because they add to some of the extreme intuitions that we are fundamentally ruled by our unconscious. But the more robust scientific evidence indicates that we are more likely governed by conscious thinking than by unconscious thinking. We might get the sense that we aren’t always fully aware of why we do what we do. This might be because we aren’t always paying attention to our internal thoughts and motivations. But this isn’t equivalent to our unconscious ruling our every decision.

While I don’t think so, let’s say that we are actually ruled by the unconscious. In this case, there is an advantage to entertaining the belief that we have more conscious control than not. In cases where things go wrong, believing that we can learn and change things for the better depends on us accepting a level of control and responsibility.

In cases where things go well, believing that we can repeat, or further improve on our successes, depends on accepting that we had a role to play in them. The alternative is to submit to the idea that either random, or unconscious forces dictate everything we do and in the long run that can be devastating mentally.

So why did you fall in love with your partner? Maybe they made you feel strong or secure, challenged you in some way, or smelt nice. Just like any other matter of importance, it is multifaceted, and there is no single answer. What I’d argue is that it’s unlikely that your conscious self had nothing at all to do with it.

* Magda Osman is a reader in experimental psychology at Queen Mary University of London.

Eye-tracking software could make video calls feel more lifelike

TECHNOLOGY 31 May 2021

By Chris Stokel-Walker

New Scientist Default Image
Teaching over video calls can be challengingRobert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

A system that tracks your eye movements could help make video calls truer to life.

Shlomo Dubnov at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), was frustrated by the inability to smoothly teach an online music class during the coronavirus pandemic. “With the online setting, we miss a lot of these little non-verbal body gestures and communications,” he says.

With Ross Greer, a colleague at UCSD, he developed a machine learning system that monitors a presenter’s eye movements to track

Read more:

Why Emotionally Intelligent Minds Embrace the Rule of ‘Writing in Reverse’

Learn to “write in reverse,” and change the way you communicate.


Why Emotionally Intelligent Minds Embrace the Rule of 'Writing in Reverse'
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“You can’t be serious.”

My team lead had just sent a text message, looking for an update on a task he had delegated: I was supposed to set up a team-building activity for our team’s monthly meeting.

Only problem was it had been a super busy month, and I hadn’t done it yet. I still had a couple of weeks to get it ready, but he wanted to know where we stood. He also wanted to share some suggestions.

This triggered me. I know it shouldn’t have; it was a simple request. But because I’d hoped to be further along, I got worked up. 

Why is he getting on me for this now? And why so many added suggestions–I thought he had delegated this to me. Can’t he just let me handle it?

The message actually came in the evening, and I didn’t feel like dealing with it…So, I didn’t respond until the next day.ADVERTISING

I started drafting my response:

Hey Steve, sorry for the delayed reply. I’ve had a lot going on and have been feeling a bit overwhelmed. I haven’t had time to do much planning with the team-building activity because I’ve been so involved in this project…

I paused for a moment.

Wait…What was I thinking?

I imagined what Steve might think reading this. Maybe that I was the wrong person for the job. That maybe I couldn’t handle my current workload. 

But here’s the thing: I could handle it. 

Organizing this team-building activity was something I’d been looking forward to; that’s why I was so enthusiastic about it from the get-go. And I had ideas, I just wasn’t able to implement them yet. 

It was simply  a rough couple of weeks–which I had now managed to get through and put behind me.

I needed to rewrite this message, following a simple rule of emotional intelligence: 

Writing in reverse.

(If you enjoy the lessons in this article, be sure to sign up for my free soon-to-be-launched emotional intelligence course, where I share a similar rule every week that will help you make emotions work for you, instead of against you.)

Writing in reverse

Writing in reverse is simple: You have to reverse the roles of the writer (you) with the recipient (your audience). 

In an age where written communication like email, Slack, and text messaging rules, writing in reverse is extremely helpful–because it keeps you from:

  • Writing purely from an emotional perspective
  • Writing too much
  • Writing what is not helpful to the recipient

Writing in reverse is emotionally intelligent–because it helps you develop your empathy muscle. In addition, it keeps you from letting emotions dictate your message, as was the case in my situation. But by taking a pause, I was able to calm down first, so I could give a more balanced reply–one that wouldn’t actually make the situation worse. 

So, the next time you receive a message and are tempted to respond emotionally, write in reverse–by doing the following:

1. If you’re writing a reply, first acknowledge the initial message. Then, wait. If you’re writing in response to another message, acknowledge receipt of the original message but let the sender know you can’t reply immediately. That puts them at ease, so they don’t keep wondering whether you’ve seen the message or not.

Then, it’s great if you can wait at least a couple of hours before responding…And it’s even better if you can wait 24 hours.

2. Write your message and save it as a draft. Your first draft is likely to be based primarily on emotion. But giving yourself the opportunity to write it will help you to “vent.” 

3. Let some time pass; then, review and revise your draft. Give yourself as much time as needed to allow your emotions to come back into balance. 

Keeping your recipient in mind, ask yourself: 

  • Am I writing too much? 
  • Is the message confusing? Will it raise more questions than it will answer?
  • Is there anything that could be misinterpreted, or that sounds angry, desperate, or emotional?
  • Is there anything unnecessary I can remove from this message?
  • Would it be better to communicate this by phone (or in person)?

Try to keep things as brief yet clear as possible.

Once you’ve gotten enough practice, you’ll do these steps naturally, save yourself time and grief, and write messages that your recipients find helpful.

If you’re curious, here’s how I rewrote my own message: 

Hey Steve, thanks for your message. Can’t reply this second but will get back to you asap…

Hey again, thanks again for your message yesterday. Yes, I have some ideas on this and am moving forward. Would love to hear your suggestions–please send them over and then we can discuss. We can also do a call if you like.

Steve’s response:

Sounds good! Here they are…Look forward to discussing!

When you learn how to write in reverse, you’ll give your audience exactly what they need, while getting what you need from them: freedom, confidence, and peace of mind.

That’s making emotions work for you, instead of against you.

New Study Shows Brain Training Programmes Not Associated With Benefits of Cognition

The study also found that the duration for which a human remained committed to these brain-training programmes.

By Edited by Gadgets 360 Newsdesk | Updated: 31 May 2021 15:20 ISTShare on FacebookTweet

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The study into cognitive function compared 8,500 diverse peopleHIGHLIGHTS

  • Researchers at Western University in Ontario studied brain trainers
  • They found that brain trainers had no real impact on cognitive function
  • The study compared 1,000 testers with 7,500 other people

No, brain training games do not make you smarter. A new study looked into the phenomenon and it has bad news for people who want to say that their games make them any smarter than the people who would rather be playing Candy Crush. From computer games to crosswords to Sudoku, people  think these games would sharpen their mental abilities. Not to forget, there is this urge to enhance our cognitive abilities to such a degree that it has, according to some estimates, driven a billion-dollar industry as well. But that’s not how it works.

Bobby Stojanoski, a cognitive neuroscientist at Western University in Ontario, and his colleagues undertook an exercise, perhaps the biggest test of these programmes, as part of their study. The team recruited a diverse set of over 1,000 people, who were committed to these brain training games and assessed them in comparison with 7,500 other people who didn’t do any of these brain workouts.

In the abstract of the paper titled, “Brain training habits are not associated with generalized benefits to cognition: An online study of over 1,000 “brain trainers”, the scientists said that cognition was assessed using multiple tests that measure attention, reasoning, working memory and planning. “We found no association between any measure of cognitive functioning and whether participants were currently “brain training” or not, even for the most committed brain trainers,” the study, published in the April issue of Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, said.

Not just that, the study also found that the duration for which a human remained committed to these brain-training programmes, too, had no relationship with any cognitive performance measure. “This result was the same regardless of participant age, which brain training program they used, or whether they expected brain training to work,” the researchers said. The study’s conclusions pose a significant challenge for “brain training” programs that purport to improve general cognitive functioning among the general population, they said.

According to a report in, the team recruited a total of 8,563 volunteers globally through a Toronto-based company, Cambridge Brain Sciences. The volunteers answered some of the questions online about their training habits, opinions about training benefits and which, if any, program they used. The report stated that 1,009 people accepted using brain training programmes for eight months on average. The durations varied from individual to individual.

Following this, the participants completed 12 cognitive tests assessing memory, reasoning and verbal skills. And when the researchers analysed the results, they realised that the ones who were committed users of brain-training programmes had no mental edge over the ones who didn’t train. The team found that even the most dedicated users didn’t have an upper hand over others who didn’t use these programmes.  

“No matter how we sliced the data, we were unable to find any evidence that brain training was associated with cognitive abilities,” Stojanoski said.

Intermittent Fasting Improves Long Term Memory

FeaturedGeneticsNeuroscienceOpen Neuroscience Articles·May 30, 2021

Summary: Mouse study reveals intermittent fasting improves long-term memory retention and promotes hippocampal neurogenesis. The findings could help to slow cognitive decline in older adults.

Source: King’s College London

A new study from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London has established that Intermittent Fasting (IF) is an effective means of improving long term memory retention and generating new adult hippocampal neurons in mice, in what the researchers hope has the potential to slow the advance of cognitive decline in older people.

The study, published today in Molecular Biology, found that a calorie restricted diet via every other day fasting was an effective means of promoting Klotho gene expression in mice. Klotho, which is often referred to as the “longevity gene” has now been shown in this study to play a central role in the production of hippocampal adult-born new neurons or neurogenesis.

Adult-born hippocampal neurons are important for memory formation and their production declines with age, explaining in part cognitive decline in older people.

The researchers split female mice into three groups; a control group that received a standard diet of daily feeding, a daily Calorie Restricted (CR) diet, and Intermittent Fasting (IF) in which the mice were fed every other day. The latter two groups were fed 10% less calories than the control.

Over the course of three months, the mice in the IF group demonstrated improved long-term memory retention compared to the other groups. When the brains of these mice were studied, it was apparent that the Klotho gene was upregulated, and neurogenesis increased compared to those that were on the CR diet.

“We now have a significantly greater understanding as to the reasons why intermittent fasting is an effective means of increasing adult neurogenesis. Our results demonstrate that Klotho is not only required, but plays a central role in adult neurogenesis, and suggests that IF is an effective means of improving long-term memory retention in humans.” Said Dr Sandrine Thuret, of King’s IoPPN.

Dr Thuret’s previous work has demonstrated that calorie restricted diets in humans can improve memory function. That research showed that IF can enhance learning processes and could affect age associated cognitive impairment.

this shows the outline of a woman and an hour glass
Intermittent Fasting is an effective means of improving long term memory retention and generating new adult hippocampal neurons in mice. Image is in the public domain

Dr Gisele Pereira Dias from King’s IoPPN said “In demonstrating that IF is a more effective means of improving long term memory than other calorie-controlled diets, we’ve given ourselves an excellent means of going forwards. To see such significant improvements by lowering the total calorie intake by only 10% shows that there is a lot of promise.”

The researchers now hope to recreate this study with human participants in order to further explore the effects of IF.

Funding: This study was made possible thanks to funding from the Medical Research Council (UK), the Psychiatry Research Trust, and the AHA-Allen Initiative in Brain Health and Cognitive Impairment.

I Struggle With Going To Bed Early, So I Tried Bedtime Habits That Are Supposed To Make You Fall Asleep ASAP

Me: Go to bed! Also me: Fabiana BuontempoBuzzFeed Contributor💬 View 15 comments

Hi! My name is Fabiana and I’m a person, like most, who is always in major need of sleep. 😴 / Via Instagram

The annoying thing about my sleep schedule is that I’m an early riser no matter what day of the week it is — but I can never get myself to sleep at a decent hour.

YouTube / Via

Over the years, I’ve become a morning person. Meaning: I love an early quiet morning where I can work out, take my time, eat breakfast, and set the tone for the rest of my day. And because of that, for better or for worse, my body clock has become conditioned to wake up early — regardless of whether it’s a Tuesday or a Saturday.


Considering I’m usually awake by 7 a.m., by the time noon rolls around, I feel like I’m crashing, and the nonstop yawns continue throughout the day.

NBC / Via

Aside from wanting more hours of sleep so I have more energy, I also know how crucial a good night’s sleep is for recovering your body after a workout, something that I do every day. So I had double the reason to want to try and fix my nighttime habits.

Back when I was in my early twenties and living at home, I used to blame my family for getting in the way of my bedtime routine.

IFC / Via

As I would brush my teeth, my mom would call out to me to show me something on her computer, my dad would be making noise in the kitchen getting a snack, or just the volume of my loud Italian family’s voices would be enough to prevent me from falling asleep early.

Eventually, when I moved out and lived by myself, I noticed that I could no longer blame anyone but myself for not having a productive nighttime routine. (Is it just me or do the hours after work just fly by??)

Comedy Central / Via

One minute, I’m cooking dinner, and the next minute, it’s 10 p.m. and I’m panicking that I haven’t yet showered, sent out that last work email, or gotten ready for bed. (And, of course, bingeing a show on Netflix will do it too.)


After quarantine happened, I found it even tougher to put away my phone, say goodnight to Netflix, and not get distracted by anyone all before bed.

The author giving a thumbs up

So for an entire work week, I decided I would try different popular bedtime hacks and methods to see if any of them would help me achieve my goal of getting to bed early. My ultimate goal: be in bed by 10 p.m and asleep shortly after.

Pixar / Via

Here’s how it went!

NIGHT ONE: I made dinner extra early — so I could finish cooking and cleaning with plenty of time to spare.

The author holding a cleaning sponge


NIGHT TWO: Force myself to put down my phone a full hour before bed — instead of scrolling until right before I shut my eyes.

NBC / Via

I knew this method would be one of the toughest, so I made sure to try it early in the week to see if I could really put the phone away early. I didn’t really have any tips and tricks for this one aside from putting a time limit on my most-used apps. I set the time limit to close my apps at 9 p.m. and I even set an alarm to remind me to put my phone away for the night.

I surprisingly wasn’t aware of the time while I was scrolling Instagram at 8:55 p.m., so when my time limit and alarm went off, I was startled and a little annoyed. I was tempted to ignore the time limit, but I told myself it’s for my own good. I set my morning alarm and put my phone across the room on my desk instead of on my nightstand like I normally do. Rather than aimlessly being on my phone at this hour, I went to brush my teeth and even did a few stretches before getting into bed. Who am I??

NIGHT THREE: Read 10 pages of a (long-neglected) book before shutting my eyes.

The author reading a book


NIGHT FOUR: Turn off the lights and meditate right before bed.

Bravo / Via

I was honestly dreading this method because I am personally not into meditating. I’ve tried it, and for me, it’s always a fail. (I know I sound very pessimistic, but I’m trying to be realistic with myself here.)

I knew I’d likely need some help here, so I downloaded the ~trendy~ meditating app Headspace and followed one of their night meditations. It definitely helped relax me, but I struggled with keeping my mind clear once the session ended.

Afterward, I laid in bed wide awake, trying my best to fall asleep, but my mind was all over the place thinking of the next day’s work, my morning coffee, and whether I should sign up for that early morning Barry’s class or not. After about an hour and a half and a lot of tossing and turning, I finally fell asleep.

NIGHT FIVE: Try out a nighttime yoga routine.

The author in yoga pants


THE RESULTS: Out of all of the methods I tried, the ones that worked best for me to get to bed early were: having a time limit on my phone, reading before bed, and cooking a much earlier-than-usual dinner.

The author smiling before bed


If our brains are anything like those of mice in a maze, fasting may hone recall skills.SOPHIE PUTKA14 HOURS AGO

WE ALL KNOW TO EAT “BRAIN-BOOSTING” FOODS like blueberries, fish oil, and turmeric. But what may be just as important as what you eat is when you eat it.

A growing number of animal studies on intermittent fasting get at just this concept — that by abstaining from food for part of, or all of a day over time, we can boost our brain’s function. But here’s the catch: Studies in mice or rats don’t mean that the same will be true in people — but there is a chance intermittent fasting works in similar ways in our brains. And that deserves further detailed study in humans.MORE LIKE THISMIND AND BODY5.23.2021 3:30 AMINTERMITTENT FASTING COULD HAVE UNINTENDED EFFECTS ON FUTURE GENERATIONSBy SOPHIE PUTKAMIND AND BODY5.15.2021 3:00 AMSLEEP AND INTERMITTENT FASTING: HERE’S HOW SCIENCE EXPLAINS ITBy SOPHIE PUTKAMIND AND BODY5.17.2021 5:30 AMHOW FASTING CHANGES YOUR GUT MICROBIOMEBy SOPHIE PUTKAEARN REWARDS & LEARN SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY.SUBMIT

For now, here’s what we know: studies that have put mice and other animals on intermittent fasting regimens have had surprising effects — including on long-term memory.

WHAT’S NEW — Mice may not remember childhood memories. We cannot ask them, of course. But when mice are put on an intermittent fasting diet, they seem to retain information for much longer than their non-fasting peers.

The latest evidence of this is detailed in a new study published Tuesday in Molecular Psychiatry, in which researchers found that lab mice that ate every other day appeared to have better memory compared to mice that followed a restricted diet and mice that ate whenever they wanted.

The mice that fasted every other day performed better on a maze test than mice that ate 10 percent fewer calories per day (this reduction was decided on because the mice that fasted intermittently ended up eating 10 percent fewer calories overall). The only difference in their diet was timing.

The researchers put the mice in a Morris Water Maze, which forces mice to swim through a maze to reach the safety of an escape platform. After multiple times in the pool, they learn to take increasingly direct routes to the escape platform — that is, they start to remember the most efficient pathways.

alice in wonderland mouse swimming
Mice in a mouse swim-test remembered their way around best on an intermittent fasting regimen — unlike Alice.Getty / Andrew_Howe

The mice that ate every other day performed better on this test after 10 days than each of the other groups of mice. Later, the researchers examined these mice’s brain tissue, noting that the intermittent fasting mice showed more neurons in the hippocampus — a brain area that plays a major part in memory and learning. These mice also showed an increase in activity in a gene called Klotho. This gene encodes for a protein that is thought to increase cognition in both mice and humans.

Taken together, these observations were likely related to one another — and to intermittent fasting, the researchers conclude.

HERE’S THE BACKGROUND — Intermittent fasting is often pitted against calorie restriction — i.e., a diet in which you eat fewer calories every day — because its proponents claim both regimens may hold a similar health benefit, but timed fasting isn’t as much effort as reducing food intake.

The reason why people stick to an intermittent fasting regimen more successfully than a diet is because during the “feeding” period they can eat whatever they want and not count calories. Theoretically, this approach may be useful as a treatment for conditions like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and even diseases that affect the brain.

But the science into intermittent fasting isn’t clear cut — and one of the mysteries is whether it has a demonstrable effect that’s as good as or better than calorie-restricted diets. In one study, alternate-day fasting improved cognitive function in mice compared to a high-fat diet or a “regular” diet (eating whenever they wanted). In another study, also in mice, intermittent fasting appeared to lead to the creation of more brain cells and stronger connections between them. Intermittent fasting has also shown promise in decreasing signs of Alzheimer’s disease — but again, the study is in mice.

WHY IT MATTERS — In the new study, researchers show that compared to undergoing a small degree of calorie restriction (10 percent), intermittent fasting may have a bigger brain health pay-off: Specifically, better memory retention, and more brain cells.

Importantly, intermittent fasting in this study is not being compared to more extreme calorie restriction, the researchers write. Such extreme diets are the norm in many other mouse-based experiments used to demonstrate the benefits of calorie restriction on health and the brain.

It’s possible in a lab to restrict a mouse’s diet by almost half — but it would be extreme for a human to follow that kind of regime. A 10 percent caloric restriction, however, is perhaps more realistic for humans to manage, and theoretically, potentially easier to achieve if you eat during allotted windows of time.

Studio shot against yellow background with negative space for text
Intermittent fasting might have similar health benefits to simply eating less, and wouldn’t be as hard. Ana Maria Serrano/Moment/Getty Images

WHAT WE DON’T KNOW — It’s still unclear whether or not the memory effect observed in mice holds true humans. Studies that have looked at the potential cognitive effects of intermittent fasting on human cognition are few and small. Studies on ketogenic diets, which are in some ways similar to fasting, have found limited success.

We also don’t know whether or not the brain benefits for the fasting mice were down to timing, or because they got more exercise. The authors note that the fasting mice were more physically active, so there may be a crucial element to this relationship that we need more research to tease apart.

The authors do, however, write that the next step in answering the question would be to conduct clinical trials that compare the effect of intermittent fasting to calorie restriction in people with certain conditions that affect the brain, like depression, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s disease for several months. Intriguingly, the gene they highlight in the new study, Klotho, may play a future role in developing medicines that mimic the brain-boosting effects of fasting. Intermittent fasting itself could also be used as the cognitive enhancer many (many) already believe it to be.

Abstract: Daily calorie restriction (CR) and intermittent fasting (IF) enhance longevity and cognition but the effects and mechanisms that differentiate these two paradigms are unknown. We examined whether IF in the form of every-other-day feeding enhances cognition and adult hippocampal neurogenesis (AHN) when compared to a matched 10% daily CR intake and ad libitum conditions. After 3 months under IF, female C57BL6 mice exhibited improved long-term memory retention. IF increased the number of BrdU-labeled cells and neuroblasts in the hippocampus, and microarray analysis revealed that the longevity gene Klotho (Kl) was upregulated in the hippocampus by IF only. Furthermore, we found that downregulating Kl in human hippocampal progenitor cells led to decreased neurogenesis, whereas Kl overexpression increased neurogenesis. Finally, histological analysis of Kl knockout mice brains revealed that Kl is required for AHN, particularly in the dorsal hippocampus. These data suggest that IF is superior to 10% CR in enhancing memory and identifies Kl as a novel candidate molecule that regulates the effects of IF on cognition likely via AHN enhancement.

How to Use Google Maps in Incognito Mode

JOE FEDEWA@tallshmo
MAY 30, 2021, 11:23 AM EDT | 1 MIN READ

Private browsing—often called “Incognito Mode”—is a standard feature in web browsers, but it can be useful in other apps, too. Google Maps has an Incognito feature that’s surprisingly powerful. We’ll show you how it works.

You can see how much Google tracks your location by visiting your “Google Maps Timeline.” This information is not set in stone. Locations and the entire day’s worth of information can be removed. However, Google Maps’ Incognito feature can do this proactively.


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RELATED: How to Enable Private Browsing on Any Web Browser—&client=ca-pub-9173525300015284&output=html&h=165&slotname=2986027408&adk=81464063&adf=3576523491&×165&!1&btvi=1&fsb=1&xpc=HeILppnzLN&p=https%3A//

What Does Incognito Mode in Google Maps Do?

When you enable Incognito Mode in Google Maps, a number of things happen. First, just like Incognito Mode on a web browser, your searches and browsing history won’t be saved.

Second, and maybe most importantly, it’s essentially a big “Off” switch for location tracking. Your location will not be recorded on your Timeline or anywhere you’ve shared your location, but you can still use the location services on your phone.

Lastly, your activity in Incognito Mode won’t be used to personalize your experience in Google Maps.

RELATED: How to Use Incognito Mode in Google Chrome for Android

How to Go Incognito in Google Maps

Turning on Incognito Mode in Google Maps is quick and easy. First, open the Maps app on your iPhoneiPad, or Android phone or tablet. Tap your profile icon in the top-right corner.

Now, simply select “Turn on Incognito Mode” from the menu.

Select "Turn on Incognito Mode" from the menu.

You’ll see a splash screen, and a message will pop up with some information about what Incognito Mode does. Tap “Close” to proceed.

Close the message about Incognito Mode.

While you’re in Incognito Mode, your location dot on the map will be black instead of blue. Your profile icon will also be replaced by a hat and glasses icon, and there will be a black banner across the top of the screen.

UI while in Incognito Mode.

To turn off Incognito Mode, tap the hat and glasses icon in the top-right corner of the Google Maps app and select “Turn Off Incognito Mode” from the menu.

Select "Turn Off Incognito Mode."

That’s it! This is a simple feature, but if you’re someone who cares about privacy and how much information you give Google, it’s a nice little trick to know.