By Nancy Szokan
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON, D.C. —
Using entertaining skits, mind-bending visual trickery and interactive real-time tests, an upcoming episode of National Geographic’s “Brain Games” aims at improving your spatial awareness — your ability to perceive and act in the world around you.
How aware are you of gradual changes in the environment? Not very, you discover when the show asks you to identify slow changes in a photograph on your TV screen. The explanation: Humans perceive fast changes more readily than slow ones, because our brains are hard-wired to see fast moves as threats (e.g., predatory animal, speeding car).
If you hold your hands, spread-fingered, wide apart over your head, can you touch your left thumb with your right index finger? Good. Now try it with your eyes closed. It’s harder, right? That’s because even though you can’t see your hands, your brain uses visual input to maintain its sense of where your body parts are.
Can you train yourself to have better visual memory? Yes, by associating objects you’re trying to memorize with some kind of sensory input: Pair a clock with the sound of ticking, for example, or a cat with the feel of fur. The show teaches you how to do it.
Later, host Jason Silva uses the classic magician’s trick of misdirection to demonstrate how easily we can miss important things going on around us. “Pay close attention” he says, to scenes where you are getting route directions or watching double-dutch jump-roping — and you completely miss a couple of crooks committing a crime on screen, not to mention the dancing six-foot chicken.
It’s fast and fun. The episodes air Monday at 9 p.m. EST.