Faking Sleep Affects Performance

By Anupum Pant

A couple of days back I talked about how standing for a few seconds in a superman position could increase your level of confidence and could help you ace interviews. Today it’s time again to look at a technique to increase performance by fooling your body.

First of all, you need to stop thinking you didn’t sleep well today. That is because the mere act of thinking you slept well makes you perform well. It’s been proven.

In a group where everyone got equal sleep, half of the people were just told by “experts” that they had 29% REM sleep (which is better) and the other half were told that they had only 16% REM sleep (that actually decreases performance). The catch was, they all had slept for equal times and everyone would have had more or less equal percentages of REM cycles. Only, they were told wrong things by “experts”.

This word of mouth coming from the “experts” actually affected the performance of these two groups. The group that was told they had a greater percentage of REM sleep performed well. And the group that was told they did sleep as well as the first group didn’t perform as good. I’m assuming both the groups were first informed about how the percentage of REM sleep affects performance.

So, stop cribbing about how tired and sleepy you  are.

Productivity: A Doze of Cuteness is good before Work

By Anupum Pant

If you like to secretly surf the /r/aww page at work, well, science says, it no longer has to be a secret activity. An experiment conducted by researchers at Hiroshima University is a perfect scientific document to convince your boss to allow you a dose of cuteness at work. So here’s a picture of a bunny with a backpack. bunny with a backpack

Note: Cuteness also causes “cute aggression

According to the study conducted by scientists at Hiroshima University, looking at cute pictures could make you work better. More specifically, cute pictures inspire fine tuned attention and careful behavior.

The study conducted three experiments to check the effects of cute pictures on tasks performed afterwards:

1. A few university students were asked to perform tasks which required a careful coordination of small muscular movements (eg: small finger movements), before and after viewing images of baby or adult animals; performance was measured. It was found that performance measured using the number of successful trials increased after viewing cute images. A performance increase of about 45% was measured. “Less cute pictures” had a positive effect too. But this was found to be much lesser than the performance increase measured after watching cute pictures – around 12% increase.

2. The second experiment was conducted on the same lines, except that the performance task was changed. This time subjects were asked to perform counting tasks. For example, they were given an array of numbers and were asked to count the number of times the number 3 appeared in it. Again, cute and less cute pictures resulted in a performance increase of 15% and 2% respectively.

3. In the third experiment a global-local letter task (more about it here) was given to the subjects. The results showed that the students performed tasks requiring focused attention more carefully after viewing cute images.


The study propelled the lead researcher, Hiroshi Nittono, to find an proper reasoning for this effect; he implies that since humans are hard-wired to speak & deal slowly & carefully when they are around little babies, they are inclined to do the same with other tasks after looking at cute things.

Working Memory – Chimpanzees vs. Humans

By Anupum Pant

At least in one known cognitive area, chimpanzees prove to be far smarter than human beings. While it is possible for humans to train themselves up to some extent at it, they lack the capacity for an excellent working memory. On the other hand, chimps naturally display a remarkable working memory.

So, naturally the next question we’d ask – what exactly is working memory and how can I beat chimps at it?

But before that is answered, let us have a look at this study conducted by Japanese scientists.
In the study, scientists use a test where numbers from 1 to 9 are arranged on a screen randomly. The test taker is given a chance to remember all the nine positions. When the subject is ready, the areas go blank and the user is required to recall all the nine numbers in sequence. One mistake and the subject has to start over. In the test, we see this chimpanzee named Ayumu showing remarkable ability in terms of working memory. The opponent human loses badly.

BTW at this test, the chimp Ayumu, can now recall 19 numbers in sequence without making a single mistake. Not just Ayumu, this knack is observed in all chimps.


As the researcher mentions, chimps are not the same as humans. Both humans and chimps had a common ancestor several millions of years ago. Now, both of these species have evolved in their own ways for all these years. While they’ve gotten good at something, we’ve picked up different abilities. You don’t have to feel bad about it.

This ability to actively hold multiple pieces of information in the mind and play with them has helped these chimps to survive in the wild by helping them to make quick decisions. As a result, they have evolved to master it.

Training + Caveat

Although you can train yourself to have an amazing working memory, you’ll probably never be able to beat chimps. Also, you should know that very few humans have a nearly equal level of working memory as compared to chimps, and these are the people who are affected by a mental disability called the Savant syndrome. It is beyond common humans to train themselves to chimp-level-working memory.

A game known as n-back, used as a test and an exercise tool can help you to master your working memory. The game starts easy. Then you move on to the second level where things straight away move from easy to difficult. The next levels seem impossible at first. But it has been proved that this game can help you to improve your working memory. The harder you train, the better you get at it; of course, never as good as Ayumu.

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