Seven commonly held myths about your brain

Credit: Image courtesy of University of Bristol

Myths about the brain are common among teachers worldwide
and are hampering teaching, according to new research. 

While this research was directed at teachers, it effects everyone, because they taught us.  So it's a short leap to the conclusion that we were taught and hold these attitudes as well.  

The one myth that we hear over and over again is that we only use 10% of our brain.  Wrong.  Every lobe and neuron has a function,  We use 100% of our grey  matter any given time, taking care of functions of which we are completely unaware.  We don't have to count cadence for our heart to beat or our lungs to expand and relax.  Our livers process the chemicals in our body, our bone marrow creates new blood cells, our food digests and excretes, our blood pressure goes up and down, light enters our eyes to be processed and interpreted and all the while, random thoughts go wandering through our minds even while we're concentrated on some task.  Our bodily functions just go perking merrily along without a single conscious thought from us.  Our brains are busy, busy using some 40% of our body's blood supply and energy throughout the day.

Of course we could be more thoughtful.  Of course we could learn more about our craft, or learn a language or a new skill.   And our brains would adapt by creating new neural paths and connections to house that information.  But at any given time, our brain is utilized to the max.

As writers, whether a journalist or novelist or essayist, it's always important that we present accurate information whether it's the historical background of the sixteenth century in which our work is set, or we're developing characters for a sci-fi thriller.  We have an implicit contract with our readers and viewers to get the facts straight.  Not perfect, but as accurate as we can make them.  

The seven myths tested for in this study are:
  1. We only use 10% of our brain
  2. Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (for example, visual, auditory or kinaesthetic)
  3. Short bouts of co-ordination exercises can improve integration of left and right hemispheric brain function
  4. Differences in hemispheric dominance (left brain or right brain) can help to explain individual differences among learners
  5. Children are less attentive after sugary drinks and snacks
  6. Drinking less than 6 to 8 glasses of water a day can cause the brain to shrink
  7. Learning problems associated with developmental differences in brain function cannot be remediated by education
Here's the story:


Myth-conceptions: How myths about 
the brain are hampering teaching

Myths about the brain are common among teachers worldwide and are hampering teaching, according to new research. The report highlights several areas where new findings from neuroscience are becoming misinterpreted by education, including brain-related ideas regarding early educational investment, adolescent brain development and learning disorders such as dyslexia and ADHD.

Teachers in the UK, Holland, Turkey, Greece and China were presented with seven so-called 'neuromyths' and asked whether they believe them to be true.

A quarter or more of teachers in the UK and Turkey believe a student's brain would shrink if they drank less than six to eight glasses of water a day, while around half or more of those surveyed believe a student's brain is only 10 per cent active and that children are less attentive after sugary drinks and snacks.
  • Over 70 per cent of teachers in all countries wrongly believe a student is either left-brained or right-brained, peaking at 91 per cent in the UK.
And almost all teachers (over 90 per cent in each country) feel that teaching to a student's preferred learning style -- auditory, kinaesthetic or visual -- is helpful, despite no convincing evidence to support this approach.

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Dr Paul Howard-Jones, author of the article from Bristol University's Graduate School of Education, said: "These ideas are often sold to teachers as based on neuroscience -- but modern neuroscience cannot be used support them. These ideas have no educational value and are often associated with poor practice in the classroom."

The report blames wishfulness, anxiety and a bias towards simple explanations as typical factors that distort neuroscientific fact into neuromyth.  Such factors also appear to be hampering recent efforts of neuroscientists to communicate the true meaning of their work to educators.

Dr Howard-Jones added: "Although the increased dialogue between neuroscience and education is encouraging, we see new neuromyths on the horizon and old ones returning in new forms.
"Sometimes, transmitting 'boiled-down' messages about the brain to educators can lead to misunderstanding, and confusions about concepts such as brain plasticity are common in discussions about education policy."
The report highlights several areas where new findings from neuroscience are becoming misinterpreted by education, including brain-related ideas regarding early educational investment, adolescent brain development and learning disorders such as dyslexia and ADHD.

Hopes that education will draw genuine benefit from neuroscience may rest on a new but rapidly growing field of 'neuroeducational' research that combines both fields.

The review concludes that, in the future, such collaboration will be greatly needed if education is to be enriched rather than misled by neuroscience.

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Story Source:  Materials provided by University of Bristol. Paul A. Howard-Jones. Neuroscience and education: myths and messages. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2014

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