How it works: Brain freeze

11th November 2011

You’re standing in front of hundreds of people, it’s a pivotal moment in your career and some one asks you a simple question that you know the answer to…suddenly you have absolutely no idea how what to say. This cringe worthy scenario became a very public reality for one unlucky US presidential candidate this week, when republican Rick Perry suffered a bout of what is commonly know as “brain freeze” during a live televised debate

How it works?

When the brain is dealing with information and trying to make sense of it the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that deals with decision making and controlling emotions) begins to increase in activity.

However, if you try to fill the mind with too much information activity in this area drops and the brain suffers cognitive and information overload.

At this moment, when panic ensues, the brain becomes flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol impairs the function of the hippocampus, which encodes memory. Because the hormone disrupts memory and cognitive functions further still, even more of it is released into the brain as a result of stress.

The end result: a serious case of brain freeze.

Tune into the Brain Season on BBC Radio Four, a special series of programmes that expolre the complexities of the human mind.