5 Brain Myths That You Thought Were True

March 8, 2018

Once an idea takes root in our society it is very difficult to “uninstall” it from our brain if we have always believed it. And talking of brains – this is an organ which has plenty of erroneous ideas associated with it. The social networks are full of “brain myths”, and we often share these “supposed facts” when we meet up with friends or family to show off our apparent wisdom.

The philosopher Elena Pasquinelli has dedicated a whole book to addressing these brain myths *. Science has become very popular and these days we have information for the general public on just about every imaginable topic. Elena thinks that that the combination of science and society still leaves a lot to be desired. On occasions there is suspicion and distrust among people, and at other times total belief in what has been said. Whatever the case, the human brain seems to be at the center of a lot of these controversies.

Anyway without further ado, let’s look at 5 of these myths.

Brain myths:

We use only 10% of our brain

It is true that sometimes human beings act as if they don’t have a brain at all, but the “10% idea” is one of the most long lasting and mysterious brain myths. The first mystery is where the statement came from in the first place – no one knows for sure.

Current neuroimaging techniques make it clear to us that we use our entire brain. Every part of it is activated in some way by many of the common tasks we perform. It is true that we use our brain in different ways and that some cognitive abilities are more developed in some people than in others. However this has nothing to do with how much of our brain is being used at any given time. This myth is completely nonsensical.

We have one left brain and another right one

This is one of the most well-known brain myths, often illustrated by strange diagrams. In fact, this myth has penetrated society itself and  has partly flooded a good part of the scientific world too. It could well be the myth that has been written about the most, despite it not making any sense. We can soon see that it is nonsense when we see how the whole brain is activated in tasks that are supposedly confined to one side or the other.

Brain myths, a left and right brain

While it is true that some functions are more dependent on one hemisphere of the brain or another, the interconnections between the two “parts” of the brain are so multiple and powerful that they can not function autonomously and distinctly. The use of either hemisphere doesn’t define learning styles or personality, because we never use only one.

Women’s brains are different from men’s

The brains of both sexes show anatomical differences. This, however, can occur with other organs or characteristics, such as height. A recent and much talked about study found that men seem to have more connections in certain parts of a hemisphere while women have more connections between both hemispheres.

These results use statistical methods in which the interpretation of the results tends to be biased, and the most important thing seems to be that of writing an eye-catching headline. This is how brain myths are so easily spread. The differences in this study don’t conclude that men and women have different brains. It does show, however, that men and women do have different types of connections. Also, how these connections work will depend on the activities that the person does, rather than their gender.

Thanks to neuronal plasticity, everything is possible

Our brain is plastic, dynamic and very sensitive to the activities we devote most of our time to. For example, a study carried out among London taxi drivers showed that their brains changed, connecting more and increasing in size in the areas responsible for spatial orientation.

Brain doing exercise

However, this plasticity also has some limits. We can get near to those limits the more practice we have in our particular specialization. Whether we are taxi drivers in a large city or work in some other profession. Plasticity can make certain areas of our brain take more prominence, whilst others are relegated.

This will depend on our activity, but also on the circumstances, stimuli, and the general physical and cognitive state of the person. Each person’s brain ends up having its own architecture which is formed according to who the person is and what they do. However, this same architecture also imposes on each of us limitations that we have to live with.

We can improve our brain capacity with “brain training”

Here there’s a fine line we have to tread. In general, any training in memory, quick calculations or any activity that improves our attention has an immediate positive effect. but, the big question is to do with the cause. Is this improvement really a product of training or simply the placebo effect associated with the activity we have just done?

The question becomes even more important when we take into account that the effect doesn’t usually last for too long after we’ve finished the activity. On the other hand, in many cases it is still true that practice makes perfect. So the big question is: do our skills improve or is it our strategies?

For example, if we play chess for a while it is quite normal for us to improve our strategy as we play. We will gain experience that will show us that some strategies are better than others. However, does the fact that our memory has more information related to chess mean that we can say that this basic psychological process has improved? Having said that, it does seem that with cognitive training the natural degeneration of the brain due to age can be slowed down.

Proven results in dementia

There are also proven results in improvement in people with degenerative diseases, such as dementia. It also seems to be true that training is very beneficial if we want to regain a basic level again after a period of inactivity in any given subject. If we go beyond these logical conclusions then the results are, at the very least, questionable.

In this article we have listed some of the most common brain myths. However, there are many others that we have not touched on, and others that we haven’t yet discovered are myths because science has not yet found a way to define them. In any case, the study of our brain is an exciting subject because it is the most amazing and perfect technology that we have ever known.

* If you master French, you can read it all in “Mon cerveau, ces héros, mythes et ráéalité“, from the publishing house Le Pommier.