How To: 5 Ways You're Making Yourself Dumber

5 Ways You're Making Yourself Dumber

No one wants to appear stupid. Whether you rely on lengthy, complicated vocabulary to show your smarts, or enjoy highlighting your speedy mental math skills, everyone prefers emphasizing intelligence over hiding it.

Yet even the smallest, most normal behaviors in our day-to-day lives are affecting just how smart we actually are. Chances are, you're dumbing yourself down without even realizing it.

1. You're Watching Reality TV

For decades, researchers have debated the merits of watching television. While spending entire days in front of your flatscreen might not benefit you in many ways, the shows you choose to tune into can make you less intelligent.

Image by Jersey Shore/MTV

When we turn on our TVs, we become subject to media priming, or the idea that what we see onscreen shapes our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Whether you're a fan of CNN, Food Network, or Comedy Central, the scenes you see play out on your favorite shows affect how you perceive the world around you.

According to recent research, media priming can affect more than just our emotions and thoughts: it can hamper our intelligence. In a study conducted by Markus Appel at Austria's University of Linz, the results indicated that watching mindless reality shows will, in turn, dumb us down.

In Appel's study, participants were given intelligence tests before and after reading a story. Those who read about a drunk hooligan named Meier, who exhibits very little intelligence and spends his day drinking and getting into drunken fights, performed worse on the test than those who read a differently framed story.

Though reality TV might seem like frivolous, mindless fun, the brawls, nightclubs, and incessant drama don't exactly provide an escape from the stress of your everyday life—instead, they suck you into their unintelligent world and make you less bright.

2. You Love Chewing Gum

Are you a bubble-blower or a crack-and-snap gum chewer? However you choose to chew your gum, the simple act of gnawing away is negatively impacting your memory.

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Researchers at Cardiff University in the U.K. conducted a series of experiments that proved chewing gum is a detriment to our short-term memory. When participants were asked to chew gum and perform tasks, they struggled to recall and correctly sequence items on a list.

The act of chewing acted as a distraction, keeping participants focused on what was happening with their gum rather than the task before them. As a result, they were unable to process what they heard and saw, and couldn't remember what had occurred while chewing.

Keep your gum in your purse or pocket, and you'll be more perceptive to what's happening around you. The less you chew, the sharper your mind will be.

3. You're Multitasking Too Often

Multitasking: it sounds like the best way to increase productivity and get through your mountain of work. However, if you truly want to get your brain fired up, it's best to focus on one task at a time.

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Clifford Nass, professor of communication at Stanford, conducted a study designed to find the benefits of multitasking. What Nass and his fellow researchers found, though, was quite the opposite.

The more multitaskers piled on—such as checking their phones while emailing and completing reports—the more they grew distracted and overwhelmed. In test after test, participants who multitasked frequently were unable to focus and repeatedly became attached to distractions. Ultimately, they performed worse on sorting, memory, and even attention-switching tasks.

The next time you're tempted to take on more than one task, remember that attempting to multitask will only slow your brain down. Rather than speeding through your workload, you'll only create a mixed-up pile of mental distractions, leading to poor performance.

4. You Love Sugary, Fatty Junk Food

You've heard this from just about every news source in the world: eating food that's bad for your body is harmful. However, it's not all about your appearance; the more sugar and fat you ingest, the less capable your brain becomes.

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UCLA researchers, while studying the effects of a high fructose diet on rats, discovered that increased consumption of sugar makes our brains slower and less capable of remembering and learning. Though that extra-large soda might taste delicious, just six weeks of a sugar-heavy diet leaves its mark on our mental state. Sugar hampers our brains' synapses, slowing our responses and brain activity.

Sugar isn't the only culprit, though. A separate UCLA study conducted by neuroscientist Paul Thompson identified excess weight as another health condition that impacts intelligence. Gaining weight actually decreases our brain—for every pound we gain, our brain physically shrinks in size.

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According to Thompson, "The brains of obese people looked 16 years older than their healthy counterparts while those of overweight people looked 8 years older." Eating a fatty diet that begins to exhibit weight gain literally weighs on your brain tissue, shrinking and aging your gray matter quickly.

Watch what you eat to keep your smarts as well as your figure. The more your brain slows and ages, the more difficult it will be to gain your intelligence back.

5. You're Working in Groups

No one enjoys group projects—so stick with your gut instinct and stop working with others. According to recent research, getting together in a group will only lower your intelligence level.

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Read Montague of Virginia Tech's Carillon Research Institute conducted a study that examined individuals' performance within groups. Montague and his team discovered that, by simply sitting with others in a meeting, we become dumber.

The study found that, when people are made to work together, their brains shut down. They are suddenly required to interact with those around them and be conscious of their social behavior while also trying to hold their ground within the group. When we enter a group setting, we worry about our standing: Are we the smartest? The weakest? Will anyone listen to us? As a result, we begin to perform worse.

Avoid social panic and loss of your intelligence by choosing to work alone whenever possible. Don't let others dumb you down simply by being in the same room.

Every Action Affects Your Brain

Whether it's an activity as simple as chewing gum or sitting in a meeting, the smallest actions can lower your intelligence without you even realizing it. Make an effort to maximize your brain power, and avoid distracting your mind with unnecessary stimuli.

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