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Luckily, we don’t tend to turn green when we gain superhuman strength © Kobal

How do we get superhuman strength in a crisis?

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Unleashing your inner Hulk is all in the mind.

Asked by: Mark Wells, Littlehampton

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Physiologists used to think that the muscles controlled their own effort levels, shutting down when exhausted. We now know that the brain plays a much bigger part, and that fatigue signals from the muscles are weighed in the context of motivation, beliefs and expectations.

When we’re in a life-threatening and adrenaline-fuelled situation, it makes sense that the brain abandons its usual conservative approach and instructs the muscles to work much nearer their full capacity. But also bear in mind that many anecdotes about superhuman strength are not as incredible as they first seem. For example, it’s usually one corner of a car’s bulk that is briefly lifted, not its full weight.


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Authors

Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.

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