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Top 10 Myths About the Human Brain

by M David Scott
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

The brain is a remarkable part of the human body. It is believed that the human brain can generate about 23 watts of electrical power, which would be enough to light a small lightbulb. Even though there are some amazing facts about the brain, there is still so much that we are still trying to learn.

Misinformation from the past has led to several myths about the human brain. Here are the top 10 myths about the human brain and how they are debunked.

Related: 10 Cool Ways To Hack Your Brain

10 Brain Size Affects Intelligence

Does The Size Of Your Brain Matter?

Bigger is better, right? That’s not really the case when it comes to the human brain. Intelligence is not determined by the size of the brain but instead by synapses, which are connections between neurons in the brain. Intelligence is more connected with the frontal lobe volume and volume of gray matter than just sheer brain size.

Some studies have tried to connect taller individuals to larger brain sizes. The data has shown that taller people may have slightly larger brains than shorter people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that tall people are more intelligent. The size of the brain or intelligence cannot be determined by height alone, and cognitive ability is not only determined by the size of the brain. It’s okay if you’re short; size isn’t everything…at least when talking about the brain.[1]

9 Alcohol Kills Brain Cells

Does Alcohol Kill Brain Cells?

A common myth that you’ve most likely heard several times is that alcohol kills brain cells. Research shows that alcohol does not murder your brain cells. But instead, it can impair brain function and cause other serious problems. For example, binge drinking or heavy drinking for long periods of time can damage the ability of neurons to send messages to each other. This can lead to memory loss, lack of muscle coordination, and amnesia.

Moderate alcohol consumption doesn’t affect your brain the same way, and there are studies that show moderate drinking can even lead to some health benefits. So here’s a toast to the brain—just don’t overdo it.[2]

8 We Only Use 10% of Our Brain

Lucy: Debunking the 10% Brain Myth

A common myth about the brain is that we only utilize a small part of the brain’s potential. You have probably seen several movies that give humans an opportunity to unlock their brain’s full potential, but these are simply fiction. The truth is that we always use much more than just 10% of our brain. This myth is commonly used by teachers and motivational speakers to help us unlock our full potential, but the 10% myth is nothing more than an urban legend that has possibly been around since the early 1900s.

Research shows that almost all regions of the brain are active except in those people who suffer from some type of brain damage. It is believed that the brain uses about 20% of our body’s energy, and it makes little sense that such a tiny part of the brain would use up so much of our energy. Brain imaging has also shown that there is no area of a healthy brain that is totally inactive.[3]

7 Brain Function Declines As You Age

Decline in Brain Function with Aging is not normal. Dr. Paul Deglmann explains why.

The brain reaches full development around the age of 25, and the cognitive abilities don’t change much after that. Therefore, it is up to us to protect our brains as we age to maintain wisdom and knowledge. A great way to help protect the brain is by living a healthy lifestyle by exercising, eating a well-balanced diet, and staying socially active.

Implicit memory is mostly unaffected as we age, which includes remembering the lyrics to your favorite songs. The ability to complete tasks is part of motor memory, and it is also held together with age. There is a difference between healthy aging and developing a medical condition, though, and they affect the brain differently. Forgetting where you left your keys or the password to an account is part of healthy aging, but if cognitive skills start declining at a rapid rate, then it is important to see a doctor.[4]

6 Babies Who Listen to Classical Music Are Smarter

The Mozart Effect

The Mozart Effect is just another myth we have been fed for years. The story says that babies who listen to Mozart or other classical music can increase their intelligence. Pregnant women have been known to play Mozart loudly or even press headphones tightly to their stomach for the baby to hear. Unfortunately, there is no definitive proof to back up this method.

In 1993, a small study (36 students) showed that college students who listened to Mozart showed an improvement in special reasoning. However, nothing suggested that any improvement would be seen in children or unborn babies. Musician Don Campbell even published a book that claimed Mozart’s music contained miraculous powers that could enrich lives. Since these claims came to light, a study conducted by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research found no evidence that classical music could increase a child’s intelligence. Good to know—I don’t know of many little children who would want to listen to it.[5]

5 Brain Games Improve Memory and Reasoning Skills

Do Brain Games Really Make You Smarter?

Brain-training games may be fun to play, but there is little evidence that shows they improve memory or intelligence. These games have emerged as one of the newest and entertaining ways to sharpen your brain and are advertised to give the user a wide range of brain benefits. There has been much debate about if these brain games offer any brainpower boost to users.

In a consensus report by the Stanford Center on Longevity, they found that brain games show little evidence of improvements in cognitive abilities. They point out that it may be more productive to spend time on activities that benefit everyday life, such as reading, socializing, exercising, and gardening. There may be evidence that a small percentage could benefit from these games, such as aging adults that could be facing Alzheimer’s. But overall, brain games are just a myth being sold to us by companies looking to cash in. I guess it’s time to delete all those apps![6]

4 Left-Brain and Right-Brain People Are Different

The left brain vs. right brain myth – Elizabeth Waters

Everyone has different talents and personalities, but there is no proof that shows these differences are caused by a dominance of one-half of the brain. The right and left sides of the brain do specialize in different tasks. The right side is more creative, while the left side is more analytical. A study conducted by the University of Utah in 2013 found no evidence that people have a dominant side of the brain.

So why do we try to believe that we have to be either left-brained or right-brained? We humans love to sort ourselves into different types of groups. It may also stem from how we have a dominant side when it comes to our hands, feet, and even our eyes. If you buy into this myth, these distinctions may help limit your potential. Well then, all those tests in psychology class were an absolute waste of time.[7]

3 The Brain Works Better Under Pressure

Does stress affect your memory? – Elizabeth Cox

You may believe that you work better under pressure, but this is usually not the case. The pressure of meeting a deadline may motivate you to put in more work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will result in a better performance from your brain. Instead, the pressure can stress out the human brain, resulting in tasks that are not properly executed.

Studies have shown that stress creates a harder environment for your brain to function in, which interferes with the brain’s ability to learn and translate ideas into meaningful information. These studies have shown that procrastinators tend to make more errors than people who work on a more protracted time scale. Everyone reacts differently to certain situations, but the truth is that the brain doesn’t normally function better when under pressure.[8]

2 The Human Brain Is the Largest

Why Do Humans Have Such Big Brains?

The human brain weighs about three pounds, but the brain of a sperm whale can weigh up to 20 pounds, which is the largest of any animal species. A bigger brain does not mean that the animal will be smarter, though. Instead, what really matters is the size of the brain relative to the size of the body. In other words, a comparison between the weight of the brain and the overall weight of the animal.

Some smaller animals have larger brains relative to their size than larger animals. The human brain is said to be the largest relative to its body size. This isn’t true for all parts of the brain, though. The area of the brain that processes smell, also known as the olfactory bulb, is smaller in relative size than that of an opossum.[9]

1 IQ Stays the Same Throughout Life

Does IQ Really Measure How Smart You Are?

A person’s IQ will likely move up and down as they age, proving that their IQ will not stay the same throughout their entire life. Our ability to recall information will peak by the age of 18, but emotional intelligence may improve up to the age of 30. Studies show that our life experiences and school-related experiences change how our brains work and can contribute to these fluctuating IQ scores.

However, determining a person’s IQ is never an exact science. Some professors believe that a margin of error around an IQ score could be plus or minus 5 or 6 points at any given time. They also believe you must be careful about how intelligence is being measured because IQ is a relative concept. The test determines how well you score on a test compared to other people of that same age. A real IQ may be hard to determine, but there is much agreement that it will fluctuate a bit as we age.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen