Our brain is the most complex organ in our body. It is what automatically regulates the complex processes that keeps us alive, what makes our heart race when watching a scary movie, and what lets us read and understand this post. As technology advances we are learning more and more about how the brain works and learning that much of what we thought we knew about the brain has been incorrect. Here are ten misconceptions about our brains.
We Only Use 10% Of Our Brain
Popularized by the film Limitless, in which Bradley Cooper takes a drug that allows his brain to function past its normal limits; it is said that we only use 10% of our brains. It is not known where this popular misconception comes from originally, but it is laughably inaccurate.
Dr. Barry Gordon, professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore states, “We use virtually every part of the brain, and that the brain is active almost all the time. Let’s put it this way: the brain represents three percent of the body’s weight and uses 20 percent of the body’s energy.” Our entire brain is constantly in use, even if we are not aware of it.
Our personality comes from being Right- Or Left-Brained
Our brains are divided into two hemispheres, a left and a right, separated by a connective region called the corpus callosum. This misconception states that for each person we prefer using the left side or right side of our brain. This contributes to how analytical or creative we are as people. Like many myths, there is some truth to this. The right hemisphere of our brain does contain more neural regions associated to creativity, while the left hemisphere does have more neural regions associated with analytical thinking.
The misconception is the assertion that our personalities come from being dominated by the use of one hemisphere over the other. This is not true. For most tasks, we use both hemispheres in conjunction, rather than independently. While musicians use their creativity to compose a piece of music, they also use the analytical part of their brain to think of musical scales and how the instruments fit together to form a cohesive composition (Unless it is Free Jazz). Likewise, an architect must think analytically about how a structure will function and stay standing, but will also use the creative side of their brain to make the structure appealing to look at. If they did not there would be square boxed buildings everywhere.
The Brain is hardwired
There is a tendency to see the brain as a computer. We have the brain that we were born with and we just have to make due. But recent research has shown that that is not quite the case.
Our brains have a terrific elasticity to their wiring, or neural connections. It has been proven through cognitive behavior therapy that the neural pathways in our brains that cause us to have certain responses to stimuli can actually be strengthened or weakened. This has led to many breakthroughs in psychology and has reshaped many beliefs in the treat-ability of mental disorders. Our brains can be rewired to function differently. For example, neural regions that function for sight are rewired automatically in blind people’s brains. Their brain rewires itself to enhance their other senses to make up for the lack of sight.
We perceive the world as it is
Have you ever missed something that happened right in front of you and were amazed that you did not see it? The truth is that you actually did, you just did not perceive it. Our sensory organs are transmitting an incredible amount of information to our brains every second we are conscious. The great thing is, our brains are very good at filtering out the information that is not important to us.
Our brains are putting information into perspective all of the time. A perfect example is that your eyes actually relay what it is seeing to your brain upside down. Because of the curvature of your eyes, the light it receives is flipped. Your brain knows this and reverses the image, so you can make sense of the information coming in.
You can actually do this in real time. Try this, turn your head sideways. Does it look like your vision is sideways? Can you still tell which side is up? This is because the vestibular system in your ear tells your brain which direction is up and it interprets the image your eyes are receiving to orient the image for you. Pretty helpful.
Brains Have Different Learning Preferences
There are three basic learning styles according to this misconception. They are visual, auditory, and tactile (sometimes a fourth option, reading, is acknowledged, in the VARK model). In other words, it is theorized that we learn by seeing, hearing, or doing; and supposedly our brains prefer one process over the others. The truth is that this assumption is not correct.
In many studies, volunteers did not perform better using one learning method over others, even when it was the subjects self reported learning style. In reality, it was shown that sticking to just one learning method is detrimental to overall retention. A combination of seeing, hearing, and doing is the best way to fully retain something trying to be learned.
The only time one style of learning performed better than the other is when the learning lends itself to one style. A perfect example is it is much easier to learn language by hearing it, rather than reading it. Same goes for learning to speak a language is much easier to learn through conversation. (Link 8)
Brain Size Relates To Intelligence
“Look at the big brain on Brad,”
– Jules, as performed by Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction.
Their is a myth that the bigger the brain, the smarter the person. This is false. In reality, there are plenty of animals with relatively the same size brain as humans, but nowhere near the level of intelligence.
“When you look at cetaceans, they have big brains, absolutely,” says Paul Manger, a professor of health sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. “But if you look at the actual structure of the brain, it’s not very complex. And brain size only matters if the rest of the brain is organized properly to facilitate information processing.”
Real intelligence comes from the structure of the brain and the complexity of neural networks. In fact, our human brains are shrinking. Compared to the size of the human brain 20,000 years ago, our brains have shrunk by the size of a tennis ball.
The Brain Can Only Perceives 5 Senses
Sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste. These are the five senses that we were taught in grade school that we all use to navigate the world around us, but it is not a complete list.
In reality, we have many more senses. There is much debate about just how many senses we actually have, but the consensus is that we definitely have more than five. Here are some of the most common senses outside of the big five:
- Space (being able to touch the tip of your nose with your eyes closed)
The Brain Fully Develops During Puberty
Have you ever wondered why car rental companies will not let someone rent a car until they are 25 years old? It seems like an arbitrary number, but brain scans show that they may be onto something.
The human brain’s development rapidly changes during puberty, does not fully mature until around the age of 25, far after legally becoming an adult.
In an interview with NPR, neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt says “So the changes that happen between 18 and 25 are a continuation of the process that starts around puberty, and 18 year olds are about halfway through that process. Their prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed. That’s the part of the brain that helps you to inhibit impulses and to plan and organize your behavior to reach a goal.” 25 is not a rigid age for brain development but more of an estimation. In fact, women tend to reach full maturity earlier than men do.
Vivid Memories are reliable
We all have vivid memories of wonderful and traumatic events in our lives. Situations that we can recall in lifelike detail, as if we are living them all over again. Well, research shows that our memories might not be as reliable as we would like to believe.
When we access memories in our brain, it turn out that we are accessing the last time that we remembered the event. The simple act of remembering can change those memories. To put it simply, when we bring up a memory, we bring it from our long term memory and put it back in our short term memory. If something changes, such as how we feel about the memory or an additional detail that may or may not be real, that memory can be rewritten when it gets processed back into long term memory.
This theory has been tested and it is possible to change memories in subjects studied. It was even possible to plant false memories. Recent research into this phenomenon has lead to rethinking the validity of eyewitness testimony in courtrooms.
The Brain Shuts Down When We Sleep
Researchers are still not completely sure why we need to sleep, or what the function of sleep really is; but one thing is for sure, our brains are still working hard while we try to catch some z’s.
When we sleep, our thalamus, the region of the brain that relays information about our surroundings, turns off. This process allows us to stay unconscious and not be woken up when something happens in our surroundings, such as someone going to the bathroom. The thalamus stays off until we reach deep sleep, or our REM sleep cycle, at which point it reengages with out brain and sends stimuli again, which we interpret as dreams. Science is not exactly sure why.
Our brains accomplish many other tasks while we sleep. It sends signals to our muscles to tell them to relax. It processes new memories and skills we have learned and turns them into long term memories. It also produces fluid that allows it to remove harmful waste in our brains related to Alzheimer’s disease. Our brains are constantly working, whether we are aware of it or not.
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