Try out the demos from the second of Bruce Hood's 2011 CHRISTMAS LECTURES®.
Want to test the limits of your brain? See how well you do in some of the demonstrations from Bruce Hood's second lecture – 'Who’s in charge here anyway?'.
Sit on a chair and lift your left leg off the floor. Rotate it in a clockwise direction, so you draw out an imaginary circle with your toes. Now using your left hand, try tracing out an imaginary number '6' in the air. What happens to your leg?
You'll probably find that your foot stops circling or even changes direction. You might think you are in charge of your brain but there are lots of things that it does without you being aware.
Tracing a number '6' creates a pattern of activity in the brain that interferes with the motion of your foot. However, one of the amazing things about the human brain is its ability to adapt to our experiences. With practise you can train yourself to do both motions at the same time. We do this all the time, for example, when we learn to play a musical instrument, dance or play a computer game.
Here's another test for you.
When the word is the name of a colour that doesn't match the colour of the word itself, it takes longer for your brain to compute and you're more likely to make a mistake. This is known as the stroop effect and variations of the test are used by psychologists to investigate our flexibility and speed of thinking.
One of the interesting things is that the test is very easy if you don't pay attention to the words. Stopping yourself from doing something, in this case reading, is actually a very useful brain function.
Are you in charge of your attention? You may think so but magicians are masters of controlling our focus. Check out psychologist Richard Wiseman performing a card trick:
Don't feel bad if you missed the switch, nearly everyone does. Some researchers from Edinburgh University used eye tracking equipment to see where people looked whilst they watched the trick here are some of the results.
Our attention is like a spotlight – the brighter and tighter the beam, the darker everything else becomes. So the more you pay attention to what's happening the less you notice what’s going on around you.
You can watch all of Bruce's CHRISTMAS LECTURES® on BBC iPlayer and right here on the Ri channel…
Many home science demonstrations fail to convey crucial aspects of the subject. The Ri's ExpeRimental films aim to change that.