What do these statements all have in common?
They are myths—falsehoods that are widely believed. Some myths are based on a modicum of truth, while others arise from misinterpretations or from a need for a great sound bite. However they come to be, they disguise themselves as truths and are commonly passed along without question.
Myths with the most traction are those that seem to be “rooted in science.” It takes courage to challenge the legitimacy of a myth cloaked in scientific language. Myths about the brain have been especially difficult to debunk since the brain isn’t fully understood. But over the past few decades, scientists have learned more than enough to discredit a few popular brain myths.
Here are some common brain myths and the facts behind them.
Brain Myth #1: You only use 10 percent of your brain
Brain Fact: You use your entire brain. At some point in your life, you have probably heard this myth. But the truth is that we use virtually all of our brain every day–not just 10%. For example, just reading this article involves engaging your frontal and occipital lobes to see and comprehend and your hippocampus to remember, all while your brainstem and cerebellum help you remain seated, breathing, circulating blood, and digesting your food. And of course your pituitary gland and hypothalamus are regulating hormones, temperature, and much more.
Brain Myth #2: Doing crossword puzzles can keep your brain young
Brain Fact: Crosswords are fun and may improve your ability to find words, but they don’t help your brain’s overall cognition or memory. Many people believe that a crossword puzzle a day will help stave off dementia or Alzheimer’s–but there is no evidence to support that claim. That’s because crossword puzzles only flex one part of your brain, which is word finding (also called fluency.) So they might help you get better at word finding, but not keep your brain sharp in any general sense. In fact, a study with over 600 participants pitted crossword puzzles against one of BrainHQ exercises and found that the BrainHQ exercise improved cognitive function, while doing crosswords offered no significant brain benefits.
Brain Myth #3: A person’s personality displays a right-brain or left-brain dominance
Brain Fact: The two sides of the brain are intricately co-dependent. You may have heard that you can be “right-brained” or “left-brained”–and that those who favor the right are more creative or artistic and those who favor the left are more technical and logical. But brain scanning technology has revealed that the two hemispheres of the brain most often work together in complex processing. For example, language processing, once believed to be the provenance of the left hemisphere only, is now understood to take place in both hemispheres: the left side processes grammar and pronunciation while the right processes intonation.
Brain Myth #4: Brain damage is always permanent
Brain Fact: The brain can repair or compensate for certain losses, and even generate new cells. People once believed that we were born with a finite number of brain cells, and that was it for life; if you damaged any of them you could never get them back. Similarly, many scientists believed that the brain was unalterable; once it was “broken,” it could not be fixed. Now, of course, we know that the brain remains plastic throughout life, and can rewire itself in response to learning. It can also generate new brain cells under the right circumstances.
Brain Myth #5: Drinking alcohol kills brain cells
Brain Fact: Moderate alcohol use doesn’t kill brain cells, and while rampant alcohol use can damage the brain, it’s not due to cell death. We always hear that drinking booze can kill brain cells, but the truth is, the amount of alcohol needed to kill brain cells would also kill the person drinking it. Moderate drinking does not appear to kill or even damage brain cells. Alcoholics can experience brain damage due to drinking, but it’s not because alcohol kills brain cells–it’s because the alcohol can damage the dendrites that are found at the end of the neurons, which causes problems in cell communication in the brain. Another brain disorder alcoholics may develop, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, is actually due to thiamine deficiency, because alcohol disrupts its absorption.
After decades of research, scientists have finally begun to understand enough about the brain to design and develop effective brain resources for maintaining and improving brain function. Designed by top scientists, Posit Science’s BrainHQ exercises speed up and sharpen the brain. The exercises are clinically proven to help people think faster, focus better, and remember more. Try BrainHQ today.