Brain myths

In spite of our easy access to information in this technological age - or perhaps partly because of it – myths about the human brain abound.

You have undoubtedly heard people say that we use just a fraction of our brain. Imagine how much smarter we would be if we were only able to figure out a way to unlock the 90 percent of our brain’s potential that simply sits idle as we muddle through our lives.

This, of course, is false. Contrary to this widely held myth, we actually do use our entire brain. Different areas in the brain serve different functions and certain places are more active at times than others, but brain cells that are inactive will die.

Although I am not certain where this myth originated, it may be in part because when we look at brain images we often see just a small area ‘lit up’. Depending on what is being imaged, this does not mean that only one area is active or being used while the rest of the brain lies dormant.

Another very popular idea about the way our brains learn is the notion that providing a lot of rich stimulation to preschoolers will improve their brain or learning capabilities.

If you go into a toy store today you will be bombarded with myriad educational toys and products designed with this in mind.

It is true that studies in animals have found that rats kept in isolation fare worse than those in more stimulating cages with other rats for company or an exercise wheel. However, this study would translate better to a comparison between a severely neglected child and children exposed to the amount and types of stimulation one could expect in a normal household with human interaction.

Although educational toys and videos are just fine to use, it does not follow from existing scientific research that children without these latest fads will fail to keep up with their peers at school or in life.

Another commonly held belief about the human brain is that children learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style.

While people certainly do prefer different kinds of instruction - whether auditory, visual or kinesthetic, these preferences actually have little to do with how effectively we learn. Several studies have shown there is little to no correlation between these preferences and learning performance. In spite of the published data on this topic, a staggering 94 percent of teachers still believe students perform better when taught in their preferred style.

Of course this is not to say that a good teacher should not try to make learning more appealing to students by adjusting lessons to suit various preferences. This practice undoubtedly leads to more engaged learners who will appreciate their educational experience and pursue it further.

These were just a few of the almost ubiquitous myths about the human brain and the way we learn. There are many more out there.


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