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Thinking Harder Won’t Burn More Calories

The human brain can burn up to 20% of our calories and burns more calories per pound than muscle.

The human brain only accounts for about 2% of our body weight but is responsible for up to 20% of our resting metabolic rate, which is the rate calories are burned by someone when they are at rest. That is a great deal more than any other part of the human body, even far surpassing muscles.

Can thinking harder cause the brain to burn more calories?

It is often wondered if thinking harder or some kind of mental work can then increase the number of calories burned by our brain. Studies on the subject indicate that increased mental activity does raise the brain’s energy demand some, but only by a very small amount. The brain’s baseline energy demand is so great that the small change appears to be negligible and therefore the act of thinking harder will not result in more calories getting burned.


  • Does Thinking Really Hard Burn More Calories? Ferris Jabr, 18 July 2012. Summary: Mentions brains burn up to 20% of the calories that account for our basal metibolic rate. Concludes that thinking harder does not result in a greater calories burn.
  • The Brain: A Body Fit for a Freaky-Big Brain. Carl Zimmer, 26 July 2011.2016. Summary: Near the middle of the article it mentions that brains burn up to 20 times as many calories as the same weight in muscle.
  • Think different. aotaro, Flickr. 23 May 2015. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.

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