Do you consider yourself a left-brain or a right-brain person? Do you hope to improve your memory by playing computer games? If so, you’ve likely been influenced by common myths about the human brain.
In fact, neurological researchers have expanded their understanding of how our brains work, upending some old beliefs. These researchers have uncovered facts that can help everyone understand more about how their brains function.
To learn more, check out these seven common myths about brains and the scientific evidence that dispels them:
Brain Myth #1: You Only Use 10% of Your Brain
Researchers have traced this myth back to 1907, when multiple sources pushed the idea that everyone could improve themselves if they used more of their brains. Repeated throughout the past century, this myth became belief. However, numerous scientific studies, in part due to the rise of modern brain scans, show that no area of the brain is completely inactive. In fact, researchers have found that most of our brain is in use most of the time, even during simple activities. On top of this, a large portion of our brain is active when we’re sleeping. This means, that while our brain’s regions are not all firing at once, researchers have not found evidence for 90% being inactive, like previously thought.
Brain Myth #2: Brain Function Declines As You Age
It’s not a myth that some cognitive skills slow down as people age, but the good news is that getting older can also improve your brain function. However, it’s important to know the difference between fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence. Fluid intelligence refers to logical and creative thinking as well as problem-solving. Crystallized intelligence, refers to facts, data and skills that can be measured on a standardized test. Researchers have found that older brains sometimes process things more slowly. This means many older people experience an occasional moment of memory loss, which impacts their crystallized intelligence.
But neurologists and other experts have found positive impacts of aging, too. For example, researchers have found that older people have better vocabularies. They’re also better at understanding the meaning of words than many younger people. Older people may also have better judgment, an increased ability to make rational decisions and can more easily focus on positivity. This can help lessen symptoms associated with depression. Studies have also found that older generations have better spatial reasoning skills.
Brain Myth #3: The Brains of Men and Women Are Innately Different
While there are certainly examples of men and women reacting in different ways to the same information, these differences are not because of physical differences in the brain. Research has found that although some physical brain features (such as gray matter and nerve pathways) are more often found in one sex than the other, some are found in both. In fact, most people have a mix of brain features.
Researchers in one study found that only about six in every 100 people had features consistently associated with a single sex. The study also found evidence that your family, your culture and your life experiences influence sex differences in the brain. According to WebMD, “when your brain processes the same signals over and over, those networks will get stronger, like working out a muscle.” Therefore, male and female brains may start out similar but become different over time as boys and girls are treated differently with different expectations.
Brain Myth #4: Everyone Is a “Right-Brain” or a “Left-Brain” Person
The pop-psychology notion that the human brain is divided into a rational left brain and a creative, intuitive right brain makes for fun self-analysis. It has influenced educators to explore different methods of teaching, such as de-emphasizing memorization for students with “left brains” and trying more creative approaches to teaching those students. However, research doesn’t support that one side of the brain is dominant over the other. Instead, the two sides of the brains work together at the same time. This means you don’t use one side of the brain at one time.
For instance, brain imaging research shows that everyone uses both the left side and the right side of the brain for reading and math. Neuroscience doesn’t indicate that people only use one side of their brain for creative pursuits, either. Decades of research using behavioral and neuro-scientific techniques do reveal fascinating and systematic differences across brain regions. But no one uses just one side, all the time.
Brain Myth #5: Computer Games Keep Your Brain Fit
Playing brain-enhancing games on the computer and doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku puzzles are often touted as the equivalent of physical exercise for your brain. Researchers found that while you might get better at specific games or puzzles with practice, there’s no evidence that you’ll improve your general cognitive skills, like:
- Attention span
- Use of language
- Ability to follow directions
Although it’s healthy to engage in creative thinking to stay sharp and to keep your mind agile, brain-training exercises aren’t likely to help you improve your overall memory or your attention span.
Brain Myth #6: Getting Hit on the Head Causes Severe Amnesia
You’ve seen this in countless movies, books and even cartoons: Someone gets banged on the head and loses their memory, setting the narrative in motion. In reality, concussions are the most common outcome from hurting your head in an accident or from a sports injury. Although a concussion often causes confusion and can impact the ability to remember new information initially for a few days or weeks, it’s not associated with severe amnesia. Amnesia is typically caused by a stroke, a seizure or brain inflammation, but remains a rare condition.
Brain Myth #7: Your Brain Stops Growing After Childhood
Many people think that their brain doesn’t grow. It’s true that most of your brain cells form in the womb, but researchers have found that at least one part of your brain continues to grow cells during your entire life: the hippocampus. This is one part of your brain that is associated with memory, learning and emotions. Even in old age, the brain still produces about 700 new neurons in the hippocampus per day, according to a study. The fact that your brain can grow new cells offers hope for people with brain disease and injuries. Researchers are focusing on ways to use this knowledge to develop new treatments.
Yes, there’s sometimes an element of truth behind brain myths, but many times, they arise from miscommunication and misinterpretation. Try not to get caught up in the pop-psychology hype.
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