Jul 4, 2010

12 Very Common And Very Wrong Myths About The Human Brain

Much is said about the human brain but unfortunately a lot of what we believe is in fact false.  The following are 12 of the most common myths about the human brain that are simply not true.

1 The 10% myth

This has got to be number one on the list as it is arguably the most common myth regarding the human brain and the most widely spread. We hear constantly that we are only using 10% of our brains and that what the rest of the brain does is anyone’s guess. This is simply not true. The story probably began as a result of researchers discovering that only 10% of neurons are firing in the brain at any point in time, something quite different indeed. There are about 100 billion neurons in a human brain and each one of these neurons communicates with up to 10,000 other neurons in the brain. Obviously this in no way implies that the brain is only using part of its power. Perhaps a more accurate statement would be that too many of us are operating at only 10% of what we might be otherwise be capable of if only we bothered to try.

2 Holes in the brain myth

We don’t have holes in the brain even if damage to areas of the brain is sometimes referred to as holes or gaps. In fact, these so called holes are more accurately described as areas of the brain that are not active, or in other words, an area of the brain where no neurons are firing.

3 The right brain left brain myth
We’ve all heard it said that we are either right brained or left brained and many people will have even done the tests to establish which particular hemisphere they are operating in and to what extent. Yes it is true that some people display more left brained or right brained traits in their behavior but this is misleading as it doesn’t mean we are only using the right or the left side of the brain. The truth is we use both sides of our brains for mental functions as one side supports the other. In fact, if one side of the brain gets damaged and can no longer perform a particular function, in many cases the other side of the brain is able to take over and do the job just as well, alright it takes a bit of practice but yes it can be done. You only need to look at cases where people have learned how to write with their other hand after a brain injury.

4 The grey brain myth
Ask anyone to describe what the brain looks like and what colour it is and they are likely to tell you that it is grey. Some might elaborate a bit further and go on to say it is tough like a muscle. To be fair, the reason they see it like that is most probably because these are images that they have seen in pictures on television, books other forms of media. However the brain only looks like that once it has been removed from the body and preserved in certain chemicals. Our brains are actually very soft and jelly like and far from being grey, are a deep red colour.

5 The brain damage is permanent myth
Many people still believe that brain damage is permanent, but the fact is that in many cases the brain can repair itself. The process of brain regeneration is properly known as neurogenesis and scientists now have visible evidence that this takes place by using sophisticated imaging technology. Even as little as 2 decades ago, neuroscientists still believed that the brain couldn’t make new cells but recent discoveries show that it can. However, we still know very little about the brain so we have yet to work out why it might repair itself in some situations and not in others.

6 The when we get old we lose our memory myth
It’s a commonly held misconception that memory loss is inevitable as we grow older. There are many different factors that can affect our ability to take in, store and recall information, such as genetics, disease, drugs, general health, and so on. Yes it’s true that many people will appear to have less of an ability to remember things as they get older but no, memory loss isn’t inevitable. To keep your brain active and in good condition in your twilight years the best thing you can do by far is exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet with plenty of fish, fresh fruit and vegetables. Exercise improves the blood flow to the brain and keeps it oiled up and in good working order and if your diet provides the right fuel then you’re laughing. Unfortunately we do tend to become more sedentary as we get older so give your body and therefore your brain a regular workout no matter what age you are.

7 The brain is like a sponge myth

You’ll hear people saying from time to time that the brain is like a sponge and that once it has been saturated with information there is no room for any more. What they are basically saying is that there is only so much we can take in. This is false. There appears to be no limit to what the brain can absorb and learn in the way of new information and it’s not its ability to do so that is in question it is more a case of whether the learner can be bothered or not to make the effort.

8 The our brain is like a computer myth

This may be true if we were robots but we are not, well some of us aren’t anyway. Seriously though, the notion that our brain is like a computer is far from the truth. Yes the early computer models were based on what was known about the brain at the time but even if you combined the power of all the computers in the world they would never match the capacity of just one human brain. Our brains are so complex and sophisticated that to liken them to a computer is absurd. However, scientists are constantly working on computer technology in the hope that one day they can create one that mimics the human brain. I wouldn’t hold my breath but if they do happen to accomplish this then I think we’re in trouble.

9 The bigger the brain the smarter you are myth
It’s not how big it is, it’s how you use it that matters. Does that sound familiar? The same goes for the brain. Men have slightly larger brains than women and this has led to the mistaken assumption that they are somehow smarter. Not true. There is no real evidence that a larger brain means a higher level of intelligence. There are plenty of people out there with large enough brains who don’t use them and many with smaller brains who achieve more of their potential because they do.

10 The we learn best by subliminal techniques myth

There has been a lot of talk and debate about learning, about, how we learn and how to retain what we have learned and many people have come up with the idea that we learn best using subliminal techniques. This has resulted in a proliferation of CDs tapes and other material that we can listen to as we sleep and so on. The truth is that we are all unique and the best way for us to learn is different from person to person. Some people may learn better with visual cues, others by listening, and others by participating and yet others who combine many techniques in order to maximize their learning potential, some learn best in groups and others prefer to work alone. There isn’t a single best way to learn, in fact it comes down to a very simple philosophy, what works for you works and that is it.

11 The depression is all in the mind myth
It seems hard to believe that in this day and age there are still people who think that depression is all in the mind and that all you have to do to get out of it is pull yourself together. This is not only untrue, it is a dangerous misunderstanding. Depression is real and people need to know that. We’re not talking about feeling a bit down in the dumps here, that is a normal part of life, we are talking about clinical depression that causes people to be unable to carry out their normal lives. There can be many reasons why someone will develop depression and another doesn’t, ranging from chemical imbalances, genetics, and environmental toxins to social circumstances and life events. What we do know is that people do not choose to become depressed and that without professional help they are far less likely to get through it. The problem with perpetuating a myth like this is that people who are truly depressed are going to be less likely to seek the help they need.

12 The videogames are bad for you myth
This is an interesting one as the rise in the use of video games for entertainment is quite a recent phenomenon in terms of human existence so we don’t have a lot of evidence to evaluate. Now, we’ve all heard it said that video games are bad for us, yes mainly by an older generation that don’t really understand them, but never mind, is it true? Well it would seem the opposite is in fact the case. Researchers are discovering that people who play video games are processing information more rapidly, are more able to multi task and quicker to assess situations and respond to them and are generally more mentally alert. So next time your partner or child is engrossed in a video game, don’t be tempted to complain, join in, not only will you run the risk of improving your brain power you might even have some fun too.



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