10 Common Brain Myths Debunked

Throughout history, scientific progress has continually debunked myths and misconceptions. However, even in the field of science, myths can persist as urban legends or tall tales. For instance, beliefs such as the Earth being flat or lightning not striking the same place twice were prevalent during the Middle Ages. These ideas, long-standing and widely believed, have been refuted by scientific discoveries. In the same way, the mysteries surrounding the brain have given rise to numerous brain myths and misconceptions, which can make our true understanding of this vital organ vague. It’s essential to dispel these myths to grasp a clearer and more accurate view of the brain’s complexities. Throughout our lives, it’s common to hear about and even believe various myths, which can lead to biases and skewed perceptions, especially regarding the brain.

One prevalent myth is the belief that humans use only 10% of their brains. Contrary to this notion, the brain, with its 86 billion neurons, is active throughout the day and even during sleep, indicating a much more extensive use. Experts have debunked such myths and have provided the facts behind the brain’s actual capabilities. Yes, rather than believe movies like Lucy, scientists say, we do actually use 100% of our brains.

Myth 1: People Have only 5 Senses

Myth: The popular belief taught in many schools is that humans have just five senses. It’s commonly thought that we perceive the world solely through smell, touch, vision, taste, and sound. 

Fact: The body has numerous senses, with scientists identifying about 33 but conservatively agreeing on at least 10.

These additional senses, which may surprise many, include:

  • Nociception: The ability to sense pain.
  • Equilibrioception: This sense is related to balance.
  • Thermoception: The capability to perceive temperature changes.
  • Interoception: Sensing the internal state and workings of the body.
  • Proprioception: The awareness of spatial positioning and movement.
  • Mechanoreception: This sense involves detecting changes in the environment through pressure, touch, vibration, stretch, and movement.

Understanding these additional senses expands our knowledge of how humans interact with and perceive their surroundings, moving beyond the limited view of just five senses.

Myth 2: The Right Brain Functions as the Logical Part, and Left-Brain Functions as the Creative Part

Myth: The notion that the right brain governs logic and the left brain handles creativity is outdated. 

Fact: Among brain myths, this is quite a common one. The right and left hemispheres are interconnected by the corpus callosum, helping the processing of various stimuli. This connection negates any strict division between logic and creativity in brain function. Research has demonstrated that both hemispheres communicate extensively, debunking the idea of exclusive hemispheric functions. 

Myth 3: People only use 10% of their brain’s total capabilities

Myth: A widely believed myth suggests that humans use only 10% of their brain’s capacity, leaving a vast 90% untapped. This idea, popularized by Hollywood movies like “Lucy” and sci-fi literature, hints at unexplored mental powers.

Fact: Neuroscientific research using advanced tools has shown that the brain, particularly the cortex, is actively engaged even during rest periods. This finding indicates that the brain is far from underutilized.

Myth 4: The Brain’s Functioning Starts Declining as You Get Older

Myth: A prevalent belief is that cognitive abilities decline significantly after the age of 50.

Fact: While some cognitive functions may lessen with age, many mental skills actually improve, including vocabulary, comprehension, conflict resolution, executive function, orienting and emotional regulation. These benefits are part of the advantages of aging brains. Moreover, lifestyle factors such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, and mental challenges like crosswords or sudoku can slow down cognitive decline, promoting brain health well into older age.

Myth 5: The Brain Functions Better Under Pressure

Myth: Many believe they perform better under pressure and their brain works faster.

Fact: Even though pressure can be a motivating factor, it does not necessarily maximize brain performance. Stress can adversely affect brain functions and memory, and extreme stress can even lead to the death of brain cells. The Yerkes-Dodson Law, illustrating an inverted U-shaped curve, suggests a ‘sweet spot’ for stress, where moderate levels can optimize performance, while too little or too much stress can be harmful. Therefore, avoiding excessive self-imposed pressure is advisable, as external pressures are often sufficient.

Myth 6: The Brain is Unable to Generate New Cells

Myth: There’s a prevalent belief that the brain has a finite number of cells, and once neurons are damaged, they cannot be restored.

Fact: Current research reveals that the brain exhibits plasticity, allowing it to rewire or adapt in response to new learning experiences. Furthermore, the adult brain can generate new cells under certain conditions through a process known as “neurogenesis.” This finding means that listening to intense music genres like Death Metal is less worrisome than previously thought.

Myth 7: Memory is Stored in Tangible Form in the Brain

Myth: The common misconception among brain myths is that the brain stores memory in a tangible, supercomputer-like format.

Fact: In reality, the brain’s memory storage process is far more intangible and sophisticated than digital storage devices. Memory in the human brain involves encoding, storing, and retrieving information through electrical impulses or neurological pathways. The process unfolds as follows:

  • Sensory information is perceived (like hearing a song).
  • A complex neural activity involving several neurons occurs in specific regions of the brain.
  • This activity forms a short-term memory in areas like the pre-frontal cortex, hippocampus, and parietal cortex.
  • With repetition, these short-term memories are encoded and consolidated into long-term memories, primarily by the hippocampus.
  • Semantic long-term memories are encoded with environmental reference points.

Retrieving a memory, particularly long-term, often requires these reference points, which act like flags guiding the brain to fire the same neurons to recall an experience. This process means that memory is not fixed and can change based on internal references.

Myth 8: 90% of the Brain’s Development Happens Until 25 Years

Myth: It was once believed that 90% of the brain’s growth occurs before the age of 25.

Fact: This is not entirely accurate. The brain continues to develop until about 25 years of age, and new neural pathways can form throughout a person’s life. Studies have shown that the creation of new neurons, or neurogenesis, continues in certain brain regions beyond the age of 25. Factors like lifestyle and cognitive exercises play a significant role in this continued growth. Neuroplasticity, the brain’s capacity to form new connections between nerve cells, remains active throughout our lifespan.

Myth 9: The Brain Stores Memory Like A Video Record

Myth: It’s a common misconception that human memory functions like a video recording, capturing experiences with perfect accuracy.

Fact: In reality, your memories are not exact recordings. Each time you recall an event, the memory slightly alters, making it more akin to watching different performances of a play like “A Christmas Carol,” where each version varies slightly. This understanding has led to the recognition of eyewitness testimony as a potentially unreliable source of evidence in legal proceedings.

Myth 10: Classical Music Can Enhance a Baby’s Brain Development and Intelligence

Myth: The “Mozart effect” myth suggests that exposing babies to classical music can boost their intelligence and brain development. 

Fact: In reality, no concrete evidence supports the notion that classical music enhances a baby’s intelligence. However, incorporating music into a baby’s environment can potentially improve neuroplasticity and cognitive abilities. Encouraging active engagement with music, such as letting them play an instrument, maybe more beneficial. This approach proved successful for Mozart himself.

Revealing the facts behind brain myths is crucial for understanding its true capabilities and complexities. From the misconception of using only 10% of the brain to other similar mysteries about memory storage and aging, scientific evidence helps clarify these misunderstandings. Acknowledging the realities of the brain’s functioning and potential enhances our comprehension of this vital organ.