Because the brain is so complex, we tend to simplify information about how it works in order to make it more understandable. And in time, by putting these bits of information together we have created many myths about the brain. There are so many brain myths and there are even books written about them.
Over the last decade the more we learn about neuroscience, the more we found out that many things we knew about brain were nothing but myths.
Let’s look at 5 myths that have been circulating about the brain.
Myth 1: 10 percent of the brain
The claim that we only use 10 percent of our brain is a myth. Very wrong, but still very popular. We have seen this myth retold with much enthusiasm in Luc Besson’s latest film, Lucy and in the 2011 movie Limitless. Brain imaging technologies such as fMRI allow us to see the activity of the living brain. Brain scans have shown that no matter what we are doing, every area of the brain is always active. Sometimes some areas are more active than others, but there is no part in the brain that does stop to function except in the cases of brain damage. Scientists reveal that even during sleep, all parts of the brain show some level of activity. Only in the case of serious damage, a brain can have a “silent” area. It would be much more accurate to say that we only understand 10 percent of our brain.
Myth 2: A person’s personality displays a right-brain or a left-brain dominance
Humans use both hemispheres of the brain for all cognitive functions. The left brain/right brain notion originated from the realization that many people process language more in the left hemisphere and emotional expression more in the right. Human society is built around categories, classifications and generalizations, and there’s something seductively simple about labeling yourself and others as either a logical left-brainer or a free-spirited right brainer. Psychologists also have used the idea to explain distinctions between different personalities.
Brain-imaging studies show no evidence of the right hemisphere as a locus of creativity. And the brain uses both left and the right side for reading and math. And more recently, brain scan technology has revealed that the two hemispheres are highly complementary. Nielsen and company analyzed the brains of more than 1,000 people, aged between 7 and 29, for clues of left or right brain dominance.
According to their highly precise measurement, 7,266 regions throughout the brain revealed some lateralization of function, but only locally, not globally. In other words, there were some regions that seemed to be more active in one hemisphere than another, but in none of the cases was there an overall profile of left or right brain activation that dominated the other hemisphere.
Regardless of personality or skill set, you use both the right and left hemispheres of your brain to perform everyday functions. There is no significant basis in neuroscience for the hypothesis that people have hemisphere-dominant cognitive styles. Labeling people as left or right brained is no better than approaching people according to their astrological sign or blood type and personality types which have nothing to do with one hemisphere being more active, stronger, or more connected.
Myth 3: The injured brain cannot heal itself
Studies have confirmed that when neurons and synapses are lost due to injury, neighboring neurons can compensate them and maintain the integrity. With neuroplasticity, changes occur in neural pathways and synapses due to behavior, environment and thoughts. Simply put, our brain constantly remodels itself.
Neuroplasticity takes place every day in healthy brains and neuroplasticity gives us the capacity to develop our thoughts, feelings, in any direction we choose.
James Olds, a professor of neuroscience, says that “the adult brain is not just plastic, it is very plastic.”* Our neurons are always breaking old connections and forming new ones and brand-new nerve cells are always being created. A top neurology researcherat Harvard Medical School, Pascual Leone argues that our brains are constantly changing in response to our experiences and our behavior pointing out that neuroplasticity, is one of the most important product of evolution, a trait that enables the nervous system “to escape the restrictions of its own genome and thus adapt to environmental pressures; physiologic changes, and experiences.” *
Myth 4: The brain loses millions of cells a day, and lost brain cells cannot be replaced
We have all grown up being told that once we lose our brain cells, they are gone for good and cannot be replaced. But new research shows that in fact, the total number of nerve cells we possess at age twenty does not significantly change when we reach seventy. The growth of new neurons is called neurogenesis, which is something we didn’t know 20 years ago.
Myth 5: Drinking alcohol will definitely kill brain cells
Moderate amounts of alcohol do not kill brain cells. Alcohol threatens our brain because of its addictive nature and its ability to alter brain function, as well as its ability to shrink cells. Studies indicate that this damage is mostly reversible. Some studies even show that moderate amounts of alcohol appear to be healthful (Framingham study). For adults, drinking a glass of wine or two every day has cardiovascular protective effects and might protect the brain by reducing the risk of stroke.
* The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember, Nicolas Carr
* An Evaluation of the Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Hypothesis with Resting State Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance imaging http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0071275