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We use 10% of the brain: myth or reality?

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Manish Saini
Manish works as a Journalist and writer at Revyuh.com. He has studied Political Science and graduated from Delhi University. He is a Political engineer, fascinated by politics, and traditional businesses. He is also attached to many NGO's in the country and helping poor children to get the basic education. Email: Manish (at) revyuh (dot) com

Much is studied about the human brain and much is also said and believed out there; that we only use 10% of our brain capacity, that each of its hemispheres fulfils certain functions, and even listening to a certain type of music makes us smarter. But is this so?

We have all heard once that we only use 10% of our brain. For example, a survey promoted by the Michael J. Fox Foundation revealed that 65% of those consulted consider this to be the case. 

The idea is attractive; If I can do everything I do with 10% of my brain, what would happen to the other 90%? 

In fact, this premise has motivated multiple science fiction film productions in which its protagonists manage to achieve that 100% and go on to do incredible things, for example, learn languages ​​instantly. So does John Travolta, in Phenomenon (1996), or Scarlet Johanson who becomes an expert in martial arts, in Lucy (2014).

However, this idea is far from being true and specialists have tired of explaining it. Still, the myth of using 10% of the brain has survived for generations. Canadian psychologist Barry L. Beyerstein, for example, has refuted this idea on seven key points.

For example, through studies on brain damage: if most of our brains were not used, most brain injuries would have no consequence. Instead, all brain injuries result in, to a greater or lesser extent, loss of skills, he explains.

Among other points, it also stands out the scientific verification of the total use of the brain from brain images through tomographies, which allow us to observe that, even when sleeping, all our parts of the brain are active. 

Who said we only use 10% of the brain?

So where did this myth come from? Some attribute this idea to 19th-century American psychologist William James, and others to Albert Einstein. Although its origin is not exactly unknown, it is one of the premises that guides the currents of American self-help literature. A clear example of this is the mention of this idea in Dale Carnegie’s 1936 book How to Win Friends & Influence People.

Although it may be disappointing for some, specialists remember that, in any case, brain development can always be increased, and any skill that is trained enough helps our brain function more optimally. 

Other brain myths

Other myths also circulate around the functioning of the human brain. For example, when it comes to the separation of the brain hemispheres between the left—which is attributed rational and logical capacity—and the right—related to intuition and creativity.

“Both hemispheres are connected, physically and functionally, by a band of nerve fibers known as the corpus callosum,” explains Doctor of Medicine and Neuroscience Francisco Mora Teruel. 

This means that the brain functions as a unit, and a person’s tendency to be more interested in art or mathematics is much more linked to their socio-cultural context than to purely cerebral qualities, he adds. 

On the other hand, another classic myth is the ‘Mozart effect‘. In 1993, the journal Nature published research from the University of California that claimed that students who had listened to Mozart for 10 minutes “temporarily increased their intellectual capacity in a significant way” compared to those who had not, says Mora Teruel.

The repercussion was such that until today many new parents play classical music to their children to sleep, in order to stimulate their neural capacity, and the practice has even been taken to farms, where producers play this music to their cows. so that they produce more milk. 

However, in 2007, the journal Nature published a new article entitled “Mozart does not make you smart”, referencing a study that the German government did to check if the ‘Mozart effect’ was something real. 

“The report determines the death of the Mozart effect”, sentenced the text, but even so the myth continues. 

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