Here’s a great article from the Smithsonian about the commonly held myths that we have about our brains. You’ll find all the classics in here like the 10% brain use myth and others that you didn’t even know were myths. I have provided an outline below if you don’t want to go and read the article yourself.
Top Ten Brain Myths
1. We only use 10% of our brains.
This is contradicted by MRI scans, our knowledge of brain degenerative disease, and evolution. You can get smarter, but you won’t suddenly unlock mind control or telepathy.
2. “Flashbulb memories” are precise, detailed and persistent.
“Vivid they may be, but the memories decay over time just as other memories do.” Each time you access a memory you subtly reconstruct it, lose information, and add incorrect information. Your memory is not a videotape.
3. It’s all downhill after 40 (or 50 or 60 or 70).
Plenty of mental faculties get better with age, such as social arbitration and vocabulary.
4. We have five senses.
You have many more than that. You may not be able to echolocate or sense heartbeats of prey, but you do have a sense of balance, acceleration, body temperature, and passage of time, among others.
5. Brains are like computers.
“The metaphor fails at pretty much every level: the brain doesn’t have a set memory capacity that is waiting to be filled up; it doesn’t perform computations in the way a computer does; and even basic visual perception isn’t a passive receiving of inputs because we actively interpret, anticipate and pay attention to different elements of the visual world.”
6. The brain is hard-wired.
Neuroscience has found that the brain is remarkably plastic. Damaged parts of the brain can be rewired and new skills like playing an instrument can reorganize certain sections of the brain. The brain is adaptable.
7. A conk on the head can cause amnesia.
Brain injuries and disease do not specifically target areas of the brain that deal with memory and personal information, nor do injuries bring back such functions.
8. We know what will make us happy.
We are terrible at estimating what will make us happy. Riches can leave us miserable and solitude can be very pleasing. When it comes to planning for happiness, we haven’t a clue.
9. We see the world as it is.
“We have a limited ability to pay attention (which is why talking on a cellphone while driving can be as dangerous as drunk driving), and plenty of biases about what we expect or want to see. Our perception of the world isn’t just “bottom-up”—built of objective observations layered together in a logical way. It’s “top-down,” driven by expectations and interpretations.”
10. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.
“Certain sex differences are enormously important to us when we’re looking for a mate, but when it comes to most of what our brains do most of the time—perceive the world, direct attention, learn new skills, encode memories, communicate (no, women don’t speak more than men do), judge other people’s emotions (no, men aren’t inept at this)—men and women have almost entirely overlapping and fully Earth-bound abilities.”
Next time you hear anyone using these colloquial myths in conversation I trust that you will correct them.