The Shower Principle

After class on Tuesday one thing that I kept turning over in my mind was that “people who never normally read a science essay will read a psych-neuro essay.” As the brain is the control center for all actions carried out by the body, neuropsychology is naturally the discipline to focus on when curious about human behavior. Even when people are unaware of their interest in neuropsychology and human behavior, headlines such as New Mind-Reading Device Lets Paralyzed People Type or The Brain Controls Our Ability to Stop Habits (see links below) will make their ears perk up immediately. Introspective curiosity is part of the human condition.

After thinking about this for a while I thought it might be interesting to ask some of my non psych oriented friends what their thoughts on psychology and neuroscience are. A couple of them immediately switched into exam mode and started memory-dumping the staple neuro words like neurons and cerebellum that they had heard in Intro Psych. One friend however became very excited and told me that he HAD to show me a clip from a 30 Rock episode that he had just watched called The Shower Principle (See link below).  In this episode Alec Baldwin’s character Jack is talking to Tina Fey’s character Liz Lemon about “The Shower Principle” a concept which Jack claims is responsible for “moments of inspiration that occur when the brain is distracted from the problem at hand–for example, when you’re showering.” While Jack’s further explanation including specific pieces of neuro-anatomy may or may not be accurate, the phenomenon he is referring to is certainly observable in day to day life.  This concept of “sudden cognitive inspiration” is something that I have wondered about before. Included in these occurrences is the classic “word on the tip of my tongue” problem; as soon as you stop trying to figure out what the word is, it comes to you. Is there observable brain activity behind this? Jack mentions that the new activity distracts one part of the brain so that another part–the one responsible for “sudden cognitive inspiration”– can come to the foreground.  After discussing multiple intelligences and the specialization of different parts of the brain, I am wondering if the number of neurons firing across the connectome sometimes causes interference which is what causes these lapses in memory or innovative cognitive power. The different parts of the brain work so well together but are these sorts of “brain-farts” observable times when the brain and the connectome are simply overloaded?

As a brief aside, it is interesting to observe how the media portrays psychology and neuroscience. 30 Rock introduced a neuropsychological explanation for an experience which is widespread across our species. In general, maybe the media is cashing in on the quote from earlier in this post “people who never normally read a science essay will read a psych-neuro essay.” This “psych stuff” is captivating, it has observable implications which are aspects of every day life and so it is easy to draw an audience for this sort of thing. Not the main point of this post, but still something to think about.

New Mind-Reading Device Lets Paralyzed People Type: (

The Brain Controls Our Ability to Stop Habits: (

30 Rock Episode Clip- The Shower Principle:

6 thoughts on “The Shower Principle

  1. I was also thinking about that statement, “people who never normally read a science essay will read a psych-neuro essay.” It also got me thinking about how many myths and inaccurate facts about the subject are spread through the media. I think writers in this field, both of smaller articles and books like Connectome, need to take extra caution in presenting accurate information because the subject is attended to by such a widespread and large audience.


  2. This was on my mind as well. The most common response I get when I tell people I’m a psych neuro major, after the blank stare, is: “Cool. So can you read my mind?” Although my boy Sebastian Seung argues that the Human Connectome Project will allow us to do exactly that, these are powahz beyond my skillset for now. I have a problem sometimes with popular science writers and magazines like Psychology Today (though they do provide sound advice on stuff like happiness and brain function. Apparently sleeping is one of them. Go figure) because of their sweeping generalizations that are toted as fact.

    On a more somber note, in lieu of the CT shootings and the recent gun control/mental healthcare conversation, newspapers and popular science writers need to be particularly careful about the way they are presenting their information. A great portion of the public remains uneducated about mental illness, and some press clippings that I have been reading have placed the shooter’s mental health issues at the forefront of the articles. I worry that this is going to set us back in destigmatizing mental illness. The real face of mental illness is all of us. It is everyone we know. It is people who are successful in many ways but live with their lives interrupted. I am concerned that the media’s portrayal of psychopathology will prevent people from stepping forward to get the treatment that they need and set up even more social barriers to accessing mental healthcare.


  3. The idea that the brain might be overloaded sometimes such that we forget even the smallest things such as the word that was in your toungue a second ago is intriguing but sort of like makes sense. If the brain works well together even though there are so many firing neurons can have an impact on brain functioning. We usually view the brain as the ultimate structure where things could never go wrong because it is “intelligent.” In the general world, outside psychology, people usually take the brain as a structure that only works with memory and intelligence, and nothing else, so this presentation of something different about the brain would actually broaden people’s perspectives.

    Talking about psychology majors, it is interesting to note that even in this college where almost all students are expected to be open-minded beleive that the only thing a psychologist can do is to read mind and provide explanations that “science” cannot explain such as homosexuality. Amongst my international friends, I am a “shrink” somehow because they feel like I can read the mind, and explain people’s behaviors even though I don’t have a degree yet.

    People have different perspectives about psychopathology, and these views differ from each person. Where I come from, mental ilens is only taken serious when one stars running around naked or does something outrageous. It is from this perspective that no-one cares that mental illnesses can come in different ways, and running around like a headless chicken is a sign that the illness has graduated, and thus getting worse. Categorizing people as mentally disturbed like the CT shooter even without concrete evidence leads to people keeping their problems to themlseves because they are scared of being shunned by society, since mental illness nowadays is correlated with something terrible like shooting people, which is abnormal.


  4. I just happened across the 30 Rock episode sighted. Having had a similar thought for years, I looked it up. In my 20s and 30 years ago. Someone exposed me to the unsavory concept of “Excremeditation” As unpleasant a thought as it sounds.

    While any time alone, relaxed or “lost in thought” seems to help me remember a lost word, snappy retort or “great thunkt” I have always found a long drive or being on the wheel in the Merchant Marine always helped greatly. But have always wondered why?

    Not being omni focused on trying to recall a word or any solution, why did being slightly distracted or mainly focused on something else, help?

    I eagerly await your thoughts.



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