1. Mimicking people’s accents when you speak to them
Have you ever been on the phone to your mum and had a friend tell you they couldn’t understand a word you were saying? Or spoken to a friend from up north and ended the conversation with a distinct Yorkshire twang?
Something called the chameleon effect means you sometimes mimic people you’re interacting with, without even realising it. This can come in the form of copying how they’re standing, or their facial expression, but also includes their speech patterns and accent.
There’s a benefit to all this copying. Mimicking someone can make them like you more. There’s just one catch – if you actively (not unconsciously) mimic someone, you could come across as insincere, and the positive benefits of the copycat effect will be ruined.
2. Saying yes to things then not going to them.
Perpetual flakers, take note: It’s not your fault that you keep cancelling on people. But there is something you can do about it. You just need to be nicer to future-you.
A paper in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that students were willing to commit more time to a peer-tutoring group if asked to sign up for next semester instead of this one. They’d sign their future selves up for about the same amount of time (an hour and a half per week) as they thought their fellow students could commit (two hours per week). But when asked about how much time they themselves could give later that very week? Just less than half an hour, on average.
In three other experiments the decisions people made for their future selves were similar to those they’d make for other people. It was almost as if they were treating their future selves as strangers. Which is not helpful for present-you, who eventually catches up to future-you and actually has to do all the stuff they signed up for.
But, as the researchers point out, now you know this you can use it to your advantage. When someone asks you to grab a drink after work, or sign up to volunteer at the local cat shelter, think about whether you would want to do that thing right now, or later today. If you wouldn’t, do future-you a favour and turn it down.
3. Telling stories that aren’t yours.
Have you ever starting telling someone an anecdote and then realised that they were the one who told it to you in the first place? There’s a word for that: cryptonesia.
Cryptonesia happens when a memory gets hidden from your consciousness. You still remember the information in the memory (the anecdote your friend told you, a fun fact, or whatever), but you don’t remember that it’s from a memory. Which means you do embarrassing things, like retell the story to the person it actually happened to.
It can also lead you to believe that great idea from your colleague at last week’s brainstorm totally came to you in the shower this morning, or to begin retelling a story you literally just told your friend group five minutes ago.
4. Laughing when things are really not funny.
Nervous laughter is totally normal but that doesn’t make it any better when you’re in a super serious situation and can’t stop chuckling.
In Milgram’s famous psychological experiment, people administered electrical shocks to actors who they believed were also participants in the experiment. According toPsychology Today, several participants laughed nervously when they heard screams of pain from the actors.
They didn’t think the screams were funny – the laughter was coming from somewhere else. It seems laughter is often used for dissipating tension. “People commonly use laughter to regulate emotions on to a more positive grounding,” Sophie Scott, who studies laughter at University College London, told BuzzFeed Science. “So people laugh to deal with conflict, but also embarrassment, anger, fear, and very often pain!”
In fact, a study by Robert Dunbar at the University of Oxford found that social laughter actually increases your pain threshold – so that’s one silver lining, at least.
5. Using made up words and expecting people to understand you.
When you can’t remember the word “remote” so you ask your roommate to pass you the thingymabob, you’re experiencing something called – depending on who you ask – “lethologica” or just “tip-of-the-tongue” syndrome. It’s the feeling of having a wordright there, on the very tip of your tongue, but being totally unable to remember what it is.
It happens most often with words that you know and understand, but don’t use all the time. It’s because of the way memory works. Your brain is not a perfect filing system, and it relies on you forging paths, through repetition, to pieces of information you need to retrieve.
According to a study published in the journal Cognition last year, the more times you forget a word, the less likely you are to be able to remember it in the future. Every time you make an error, you reinforce it in your brain, increasing the chance that you’ll make it again.
Which might be why, after calling it every variation of “thingy” and “doodah” every day for years on end, you are doomed to never be able to remember the name for the thing you use to change the TV channel.
6. Always being late.
Being punctual is basically a personality trait – so if it doesn’t come naturally to you, and you want to become a punctual person, you’re really going to have to work at it. Knowing why you might be late is going to help.
People who are chronically late have a tendency to underestimate how long tasks actually take to complete. This is called the “planning fallacy”.
Some researchers have suggested that a reason people do this is that they don’t mentally unpack complex tasks into their component parts. You might know you have to pop to the shop to pick up dinner, for example, and estimate that it will take you 15 minutes. The shop is five minutes away, so that should be plenty of time, right? But you didn’t take into account that you need to find your shopping bag, decide what to make for dinner, write a list, spend time finding all the items, and wait in a queue to pay. Once you unpack the task and factor in all the sub-tasks, it becomes clear it’s going to take longer than 15 minutes.
So before you decide what time you need to leave to meet a friend, think about everything you need to do in order to get there.
7. Forgetting what you went into a room for as soon as you get there.
Running back to your bedroom to pick something up before leaving the house, only to forget entirely what you went there for is a pretty common occurrence – but it’s still a super annoying one. It’s called the “doorway effect”, and it’s to do with your change in environment.
A study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2011 found that the act of walking through a doorway is what makes you forget why you walked through it in the first place. When you’re in, say, the hallway, you have a rough mental picture in your mind of your environment and what you’re doing there. When you walk through the doorway to your living room, you replace that mental picture with a new one. In that switch, some other information – like the reason you headed into the living room – can get lost.
It’s not just a change in physical environment that can spark this effect. So it could also explain why you open a new tab to do some very important research for an essay or project, and end up on Facebook seconds later.