Ten Stubborn Brain Myths Scientists Have Reveled Will Never Die

Posted by Editorial Staff in Science and Technology On 6th February 2017
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Brain games will make you smarter! The internet is making you dumber! Alcohol is killing your brain cells! these and many more myths are coming to your knowledge in this article.

#1 Brain games will make you smarter! The internet is making you dumber! Alcohol is killing your brain cells!

The brain is a mystery we've been trying to solve for ages, and the desire to unlock its secrets has led to vast amounts of misinformation. Many of these false notions are more widely believed than the truth. We took our healthy skepticism and a bunch of brain research to find the truth behind some of the most common myths about intelligence and our brains. Here's what we learned.

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#2 Left-Brained People Are Organized, Right-Brained People Are Creative

We're a stubborn people who become set in our ways, so it's no wonder we want to believe that our inclination towards creativity or organized thinking is decided at birth. The right- or left-brained myth suggests we're simply fulfilling a version of our genetic destiny and we should accept our strengths and weaknesses as part of who we are. But as Lisa Collier Cool points out in her article for Yahoo Health, we're not really right- or left-brained at all:

"This myth began in the 1800s, where doctors discovered that injury to one side of the brain frequently caused loss of specific abilities. Brain scan experiments, however, show that the two halves of the brain are much more intricately linked than was originally thought, so problem-solving or creative tasks fire up activity in regions of both hemispheres of the brain, not just half. It is true that the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and vice versa, so a right-brain injury can cause disability on the left side of the body."

More recently this myth has been used as an attempt to explain creativity, dyslexia, and even homosexuality in left-handed people, but the origin of the southpaw is still a mystery. Whether or not there is a compelling link between right- or left-handedness and specific common traits remains to be seen, but rest-assured that being more creative or more organized doesn't inhibit you from having a talent for both.

#3 Your Memory Is An Exact Account of What You See and Experience

Some of us have better memories than others, but no memory is perfect. If you need proof, close your eyes and try to imagine the face of someone you know. In fact, try to imagine your own face. While you'll be able to conjure up a decent idea of the way you or anyone else looks, you won't be able to envision every last detail. This is because our memories don't recall anything we see, hear, sell, taste, or touch with much detail at all. Instead, as psychologist Dan Gilbert points out in his book Stumbling On Happiness, our brains record the seemingly necessary details and fill in the rest when it's time to remember:

The elaborate tapestry of our experience is not stored in memory-at least not in its entirety. Rather, it is compressed for storage by first being reduced to a few critical threads, such as a summary phrase ("Dinner was disappointing") or a small set of key features (tough steak, corked wine, snotty waiter). Later, when we want to remember our experience, our brains quickly reweave the tapestry by fabricating-not by actually retrieving-the bulk of the information that we experience as a memory. This fabrication happens so quickly and effortlessly that we have the illusion (as a good magician's audience always does) that the entire thing was in our heads the entire time.

Gilbert's conclusions come from memory researcher Daniel Schacter, who believes the construction of memory is very similar to the way we imagine the future.

While a little common sense and life experience can demonstrate the imperfections in your (and everyone else's) memory, Schacter's research points to two important things: we're no good at recalling past events or imagining the future because our process for doing either is essentially the same—at least as far as our brain functionality is concerned. While this points to much more of a problem than a solution, it certainly helps to remember that no memory is perfect and we're all designed to recall with error. Next time someone gets something wrong, it's at least worth remembering that.

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#4 You Only Use 10% of Your Brain

As with many myths, you can generally begin the debunking process by reminding yourself that the claim is pretty ridiculous. If we only used 10% of our brains, what's the point of the other 90%? According to myth-busting site Snopes, it was television that made us dumber:

"In 1998, national magazine ads for U.S. Satellite Broadcasting showed a drawing of a brain. Under it was the caption, "You only use 11 percent of its potential." Well, they're a little closer than the ten-percent figure, but still off by about 89 percent. In July 1998, ABC television ran promotional spots for The Secret Lives of Men, one of their offerings for the fall season's lineup. The spot featured a full-screen blurb that read, "Men only use ten percent of their brains."

After that, champions of the paranormal used the 10% claim to explain the potential for psychic powers. It became fun to imagine the incredible potential available to us humans once we were able to unlock the remaining 90%. Unfortunately for superpower fans everywhere, we're already enjoying most of what our brains can currently offer. Lisa Collier Cool explains:

Brain imaging studies using PET scans and functional MRI show that any mentally complex activity uses many areas of the brain, and over a day, just about all of the brain gets a workout. More proof that the entire brain is crucial for daily life is the devastating impact of damage to even a small area of the brain. However, we do have some brain reserves. An autopsy study found that seniors who stay mentally active-through activities like reading the paper, going to the theater, or playing chess-are less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease-even if they have the characteristic physical brain changes typical of dementia, suggesting that mental function has a "use it or lose it" component. That allows people who keep their brain stimulated to develop more brain reserves, allowing them to continue functioning normally even as their brains are being damaged by Alzheimer's.

While you can't look forward to developing incredible superpowers with the help of rapid evolution, or any other crazy theory, you can keep yourself healthier later in life by simply staying mentally active. You may not be able to bend metal with your mind, but at least you'll stay coherent in your golden years.

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