Using Just 10% of Your Brain? Think Again
Pop quiz: Which of these statements is false?
1. We use only 10% of our brain.
2. Environments rich in stimuli improve the brains of preschool children.
3. Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style, whether auditory, visual or kinesthetic.
If you picked the first one, congratulations. The idea that we use only 10% of our brain is patently false. Yet it so permeates popular culture that, among psychologists and neuroscientists, it is known as the “10% myth.” Contrary to popular belief, the entire brain is put to use—unused neurons die and unused circuits atrophy. Reports of neuroimaging research might perpetuate the myth by showing only a small number of areas “lighting up” in a brain scan, but those are just areas that have more than a base line level of activity; the dark regions aren’t dormant or unused.
Did you agree with the other two statements? If so, you fell into our trap. All three statements are false—or at least not substantiated by scientific evidence. Unfortunately, if you got any of them wrong, you’re hardly alone.
These “neuromyths,” along with others, were presented to 242 primary and secondary school teachers in the Netherlands and the U.K. as part of a study by Sanne Dekker and colleagues at VU University Amsterdam and Bristol University, and just published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. They found that 47% of the teachers believed the 10% myth. Even more, 76%, believed that enriching children’s environments will strengthen their brains.