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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

August 1, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Myth that we use only 10 percent of brain is 100 percent bunk

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Morgan Freeman and Scarlett Johansson in “Lucy” / (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Science journalists are throwing a wet blanket on the premise of the new movie, “Lucy” — that we humans only use 10 percent of our brains, leaving vast expanses of cortex untapped.

The movie features Scarlett Johansson in the title role as an American student abroad who develops extraordinary powers by unleashing the potential of all that unused neural territory.

The 10-percent notion is one of those zombie ideas about the brain that refuse to die.

The short answer is that we already use all of our brain, which makes sense because while it comprises about 2 percent of body mass, the brain gobbles up 20 percent of the oxygen we breathe and 20 percent of the energy we consume. That would be a big fuel bill for an organ that was 90 percent idle.

Other zombie ideas about the brain, sometimes referred to as neuromyths, include the notion that students are naturally left-brained (logical) or right-brained (creative) and teachers should try to balance their instruction accordingly. Short answer: people use both hemispheres of their brain in daily tasks, regardless of personality or skills.

Neuromyths matter for teachers and parents because they may be persuaded to waste time and money on gadgets and techniques that claim to be brain-based, but aren’t backed by scientific evidence.

Neuromyths also distract from the difficult work that researchers in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, biology, computer science and education are doing to bridge the gaps among their disciplines to reach a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of teaching and learning.

So, enjoy the movie, but bear in mind that it’s not only the popcorn that needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

Comments | Topics: Neuroscience and education, Science of learning

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