All You Need To Know About The 10 Percent Brain Myth In 60 Seconds
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The new Luc Besson movie Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson, opens tomorrow in theaters countrywide. It’s based on the immortal myth that we use only 10 percent of our brains. Johansson’s character is implanted with drugs that allow her to access 100 percent of her brain capacity. She subsequently gains the ability to learn Chinese in an instant, beat up bad guys, and throw cars with her mind . Morgan Freeman plays neuroscientist Professor Norman, who’s built his career around the 10 percent claim. “It is estimated most human beings use only 10 percent of the brain’s capacity,” he says, “Imagine if we could access 100 percent.”
As it happens, I’ve written a book all about brain myths . I thought I’d use what I learned to give you a 60-second explainer on the 10 percent myth.
Great Myths of the Brain, by Christian Jarrett, was published in 2014. .
No, the 2011 movie Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper was based on the same idea, except the precise figure was placed at 20 percent. Cooper’s character takes a pill that lets him access the full 100 percent. Both the 1991 film Defending Your Life and Flight of the Navigator include claims that most of us use a fraction of our brains. The myth is also invoked in the TV series Heroes, to explain why some people have special powers.
The Myth Pervades Is Often Repeated By Self
From the outside, the brain is rather unremarkable: a lump of jelly-like fat weighing in at just under 1.4 kg.
Yet, it is basis for all our thoughts, feelings and actions and it has been called the most complex object in the known universe due to its network of 86 billion interconnected brain cells.
Because of that the brain fascinates us. We often look to neuroscience for explanations that help us figure out why we are the way we are.
Today arguments about how the brain works are drawn into discussions on education, personality, consumer behavior, and more.
But how much of that pop-culture knowledge is actually supported by science?
Unfortunately, some of the most wide-held beliefs are closer to fiction than to fact and in the following article and two more to come, I will debunk three myths about the brain.
Where Did That Myth Come From
Where did the whole you-only-use-10-percent-of-your-brain thing come from, anyway?
Researchers point to different sources of the myth, but one that is often linked to it is psychologist William James’s text The Energies of Men, published in 1907. In the essay, James argued that we are only using a small part of our possible mental and physical resources. Some people also attribute the idea to Albert Einstein, who is just naturally smarter than the rest of us. Psychology Today also credited the myth’s creation to the neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, who experimented with stimulating parts of the brain to treat epilepsy.
The myth gained so much ground that a 2013 survey sponsored by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research showed 65 percent of Americans believe that statement. Pop culture also plays a part. Think of any movie that involves psychic powers. Most of these explain the development of psychic abilities by harnessing more parts of the brain. No other film made a bigger deal out of the full 10 percent of the brain thing than 2014’s Lucy, a movie The Atlantic called “mind-bendingly miscalculated.” In that movie, Lucy takes a drug that somehow unlocks the use of more areas of her brain. She begins levitating, reading minds, controlling TVs, and, once she reaches 100 percent, fades into consciousness itself and enters a computer. This was a real movie in actual theaters, promise.
We Use Virtually Every Part Of The Brain The Brain Is Active Almost All The Time
The reality is that this claim is also inaccurate: Ill call it the 100 percent myth. In fact, the 10 percent figure is a useful reference point for understanding how your brain works and for conceptualizing the actual patterns of activity happening in your head.
Now, it is probably true that, over time, we use more than just 10 percent of the neurons in our heads. However, the total is probably well short of 100 percent. The probablies here have to do with the fact that it is very difficult to make high-resolution measurements of activity in lots of neurons in an awake animal. Even non-human animals like mice are difficult to record, and in humans, the precise recording is nearly impossible.
Until recently, only a handful, a few dozen, or, more rarely, a few hundred or thousand neurons, could be measured at once with precision. However, neuroscientists are making significant progress.
In 2020, a large team led by Saskia de Vries of the Allen Institute for Brain Science published a blockbuster paper that made precise estimates of large-scale neural activity patterns in the mouse brain.
Its worth giving a little more detail about the methods of this study because they help illuminate a misleading argument in support of the 100 percent myth.
Do We Use 100% Of Our Brain Or Its Just 10%
This has been a debate going around as to what exactly is the truth. Are we accessing only 10% of our brain or are we accessing 100% of our brain all the time? According to Barry Gordon, a neurologist of John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, the ten percent is only a myth and it is not true.
On the other hand, Sir John Eccles stated that the human brain has infinite potential. In addition, it was also stated that humans have unlimited capacity to learn unlike computers, no human brain has ever said: Hard drive full. The Doctors TV show covered this topic on February 10, 2015 and they are convinced that a human uses all of the brain all the time.
They even showed a brain scan courtesy of Washington University Show, indicating that every time we do something, there is a brain activity taking place in almost all areas. But what I have noticed is that they only focused on what the brain is doing with our body. In other sense, the brain activity that is seen in the scan in The Doctors show is the motor capacity of the brain that is a part of our body.
Sir John Eccless point is the humans mental capacity to access the gigantic network connections that we possess like what Freeman said in the movie. I dont think there is ever a machine that is able to measure something that is not seen and cannot be seen. It is mental. It goes beyond the physical aspect of the brain. It is psychology.
What Percentage Of Our Brains Do We Actually Use Popular Myth Debunked In Ted
It’s commonly said that we humans use only about 10 percent of our brains, with some people attributing Einstein’s brilliance to his ability to stretch that paltry figure to 15 percent.But in the video above, neurologist Dr. Richard Cytowic debunks these familiar notions, arguing that brain regions once believed to be “silent” are actually humming with activity.
What exactly do these “silent” regions do? According to Cytowic, they’re intimately involved with our ability to plan, make decisions, adapt to evolving situations, and reason abstractly. And evidence suggests that at any moment up to 16 percent of our brain cells are active.
So next time your friends bring up the 10-percent nonsense, you’ll be able to set them 100-percent straight.
A Brain Freeze Is Really A Warning Signal
Officially called a sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, a brain freeze happens when you eat or drink something thats too cold. It chills the blood vessels and arteries in the very back of the throat, including the ones that take blood to your brain. These constrict when theyre cold and open back up when theyre warm again, causing the pain in your forehead. This is your brain telling you to stop what you are doing to prevent unwanted changes due to temperature.
What Fraction Of Our Brains Do We Actually Use
There is a common misperception, and pervasive urban legend that we only use a fraction of our brains. The part we supposedly use is 10% or 1/10th. This belief is often followed by the theory if we were to make use of the remaining 90% of our brains not in use, we would have amazing potential for intelligence, perhaps extra-sensory perception, and other sixth sense abilities.
About 10% of the brain is composed of neurons, can be shown to be active on brain scans. 90% of the human brain is made up of glial cells, which have very different functions than neurons. Through the use of brain mapping, it has been observed that in normal thought processes, the brain is in constant activity, no matter if we are sleeping or awake. It is important to note that we don’t use the entire fraction of our brains that have neurons at the same time.
Firing of all neurons at once would cause seizures and possibly brain death. In this sense, we are not even using all 10% of the supposed fraction of our brains we do use. But we are using glial cells as well as neurons in order to think, act, feel and move. Therefore, were using much more than 1/10th at any given time. Not all of it can be mapped in the same way that neurons can be.
How Much Of The Brain Do Humans Actually Use
When talking about human organs it doesnt get much more complex then the brain. The brain is a mechanism humans use to read, write, process information, express emotions, and retaining memories. Theres no question that the brain is an extremely powerful and intricate organ but how much of the brain do we actually use?
Im sure at one point or another everyone has heard the myth that humans only have access and control of up to 10 percent of their brains. Keeping this in mind I always wondered what would happen if a Human gained access to the other 90 percent of their brain. Would they be able to read minds? Could they suddenly have the power of telekinesis, or would their IQ break world records? Unfortunately this myth couldnt more wrong. So whose to blame for this 10 percent myth that got so many average peoples hopes up. William James was an american psychologist who published a book called the The Energies Of Men. In this book he stated without any scientific proof that humans are only tapping into a very small part of the brains mental and physical resources. This claim is what eventually started the 10 percent myth.
Dr. Barry Gordon a professor of neurology at the School of Medicine and professor of cognitive science at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences had this to say.
Headaches Are Caused By A Chemical Reaction
Chemical activity in your brain, the nerves or blood vessels surrounding your skull, or the muscles of your head and neck can play a role in primary headaches. Serotonin is a chemical necessary for communication between nerve cells. When serotonin or estrogen levels change, the result for some is a headache or migraine. Serotonin levels may affect both sexes, while fluctuating estrogen levels affect women only.
An Adult Brain Weighs About 3 Pounds
The cerebrum makes up 85% of the brains weight, and the brain makes up about 2% of a humans body weight. The texture of the brain is like a firm jelly. The heaviest normal human brain weighed 4.43 pounds. It belonged to the Russian Writer Ivan Turgenev. And the smallest brain, just 2.41 pounds, belonged to a woman.
: Is It True That You Get New Brain Wrinkles When You Learn Something
Not all brains are wrinkled. In fact, most animals have fairly smooth brains. Some exceptions are primates, dolphins, elephants, and pigs, which also happen to be some of the more intelligent animals.
The human brain is exceptionally wrinkled. Thats probably why people conclude that we gain more wrinkles as we learn new things. But thats not how we acquire brain wrinkles.
Your brain starts developing wrinkles before youre even born. The wrinkling continues as your brain grows, until youre about 18 months old.
Think of the wrinkles as folds. The crevices are called sulci and the raised areas are called gyri. The folds allow room for more gray matter inside your skull. It also decreases wiring length and improves overall cognitive functioning.
Human brains vary quite a bit, but theres still a typical pattern to brain folds. Research shows that not having the major folds in the right places could cause some dysfunction.
- motivate you to do things you probably wanted to do anyway
Learning entirely new things is far more complicated.
Say youve been studying a foreign language. Theres only a small chance that listening to vocabulary words in your sleep can help you remember them a bit better. A 2015 study found that this is true only under the best of circumstances. The researchers noted that you cant learn new things during your sleep.
The Origins Of The Myth
Researchers suggest that this popular urban legend has existed since at least the early 1900s. It may have been influenced by people misunderstanding or misinterpreting neurological research. The 10% myth may have emerged from the writings of psychologist and philosopher William James. In his 1908 book, The Energies of Men, he wrote, “We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.”
The myth has perpetuated much like other urban legends. Movies depict characters capable of remarkable feats when the supposedly unused 90% of their brains are “unlocked.” Well-intentioned people such as motivational speakers or teachers often cite the 10% myth as a way to demonstrate that all people should strive to live up to their full potential. Unfortunately, less well-meaning people have also used the myth to promote and sell products and services that they claim will unlock your brain’s hidden abilities.
Where Did The 10% Myth Begin
The 10% statement mayhave been started with a misquote of Albert Einstein or themisinterpretation of the work of Pierre Flourens in the 1800s. It mayhave been William James who wrote in 1908: “We are making use of only asmall part of our possible mental and physical resources” . Perhaps it was the work of Karl Lashley in the 1920s and1930s that started it. Lashley removed large areas of the cerebral cortexin rats and found that these animals could still relearn specific tasks. We now know that destruction of even small areas of the human braincan have devastating effects on behavior.That is one reason why neurosurgeons must carefully map the brain beforeremoving brain tissue during operations for epilepsy or brain tumors: they want to make sure that essential areas of the brain are notdamaged.
What Can We Do To Improve Our Brains Function
It isnât just older people encountering cognitive decline who should be working to improve their brains, Rebecca says.
âOlder people get the most focus, but thinking skills are important for everyone,â she says. âThe opportunity to improve the health of our brain is there for all of us at any stage of our life, and the earlier in life you start, the better the effects.â
Hereâs what we can all do to optimise the health and function of our brain.
Where Did The Myth About Our Brain Come From
Like other widely held but false ideas, the myth that we only use 10% of our brains has evolved from a series of sources and taken on a life of its own.
Everyone from Albert Einstein and psychologist William James, to neurosurgeon Karl Lashley has contributed to the myth, and its origins date back as far as the early 1900s.
Hollywood has even weighed in on the subject with Scarlett Johanssonâs 2014 movie Lucy, based on the premise that humans only use a 10th of their craniumâs capacity. Morgan Freeman, who plays a neurologist in the film says, âIt is estimated most human beings only use 10% of their brainâs capacity. Just imagine if we could access 100%.â
When Lucy taps into her brainâs full potential with the help of a cognitive-boosting drug, she can absorb information instantly, travel through time in her mind, and become the spoon-bending, ninja-skilled warrior weâd all quite like to be.
âThis myth has perpetuated because itâs a really inspirational concept,â says clinical neuropsychologist Dr Rebecca Segrave. âSadly, itâs entirely inaccurate.â
Rebecca is Deputy Director of Monash Universityâs BrainPark, a world-first clinical neuroscience research facility supported by nib foundation and dedicated to creating better outcomes for people living with addictions.
Dreams Are Believed To Be A Combination Of Imagination Physiological Factors And Neurological Factors
The limbic system in the mid-brain deals with emotions in both waking and dreaming and includes the amygdala, which is mostly associated with fear and is especially active during dreams. Dreams are proof that your brain is working even when you are sleeping. The average human has about 4-7 dreams per night.
Short Term Memory Lasts About 20
This has to do with your brains capacity for holding small amounts of information in the active mind. The brain keeps this information in an available state for easy access, but only does so for about a minute and a half. Most people hold memory for numbers around 7 seconds, and memory for letters around 9 seconds. In addition, the brain can store up to 7 digits in its working memory. That is why the telephone numbers in the United States are 7 digits long. Learn more about Memory Disorders.
Some Tips To Improve Our Brain Function
Instead of asking how much of our brain do we use, lets do some trick to improve it better.
1.Good Balanced Diet Does The Trick
Eating healthy nutrition-balanced diet will improve your brain function. Good healthy foods will make the body do thework they are supposed to do. Whereas, when you take junk foods, your body is not designed to break them down easily so eventually the task gets hard for the body and it reacts in the form of storing more fat. Too much junk/fried/processed/artificial sweetened foods will deprive all the good things in your body which the brain needs to function well.
Following foods will promote good brain function:
2.Regular Exercises Has The Most Positive Effect On Brain Function
Exercise regularly or about three to four times a day will have more positive effect on your brain. Practicing yoga and breathing exercises regularly will bring your stress levels considerably down in no time leading to more improved brain functions. e very good for the brain to function well with no stress levels.
3.Keep your Brain Stay Active
The First Sighting Of The Myth
The actual confirmed first written sighting of the myth about how much of our brain we us, though, is in a 1940s advert for the book Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons :
Whats holding you back? Just one fact one scientific fact.
That is all.
Because, as Science says, you are using only one-tenth of your real brain-power!
Whatever its provenance, the myth about how much of our brain we use is certainly a slippery customer.
The reason is two-pronged: first, its impossible to prove something doesnt exist and second, people like to believe it.
If I say Ive seen a Pegasus, or visited Mars, or that all our brains have huge untapped potential, you cant definitively prove me wrong.
Thats why, despite a few good solid blows to the head, this myth refuses to go down.
Perhaps putting it the other way around might deliver the knock-out blow.
Instead of talking about the 90 percent of untapped potential, just ask people why they only use 10 percent of their brains.
Would anyone seriously admit to that?
I, for one, am working at maximum capacity.
Well, most of the time anyway
What Percentage Of Our Brains Do We Really Use
You may have recently seen the debonair voice of Morgan Freeman in a movie trailer for Lucy starring Scarlett Johansson. In the trailer, you hear him state the statistic that we, as humans, only use 10 % of our brains capacity. This seems a shocking statistic that makes you wonder is this for real?
No matter how convincing that buttery voice may be, you cant believe everything he says! The origins of this popular myth is unknown, but it is thought to be traced back to the Einstein era. Though an alluring idea, the 10 percent myth is so wrong it is almost laughable, says neurologist Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.
That is neither here nor there What IS important is knowing how powerful our brain is and that we actually use most of our brain all the time! Our brain actually uses up 20% of our bodys energy, and in kids, it uses up 50% of their energy! John Henley from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota states that Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain.
An Unlikely Mismanagement Of The Bodys Resources
Today, clinical experience clearly contradicts the 10 percent myth: damage to small areas of the brain, for example caused by a stroke, can have devastating effects on the patients abilities.
Modern brain imaging methods also disprove the idea by showing that much of the brain is active during most tasks.
Also from an evolutionary perspective the 10 percent-myth is unlikely: Brains are expensive, they consume roughly 20-25 percent of the bodys entire energy budget.
If the majority of the brain was left to lie fallow this would be such an outrageous mismanagement of the bodys resources that an organism with this strategy is unlikely to have survived evolutionary pressure.
What Percent Of Your Brain Do You Really Use
Pretty sure you’ve heard that we humans only use 10 percent of our brains. You probably heard it from teachers or from movies. But, like many things school lied to you about, this is one fact that definitely doesn’t stand up to actual science.
The truth is, while there’s no known limit to what the brain can do, there are times when you’re actually using 100 percent of your full brainpower. As explained by Scientific American, not all parts of the brain fire at once, but over the course of a day, a person would’ve used their full brainpower. That’s because the majority of what you do, no matter how mindless it may seem, requires far more from your brain than you think. Things like your morning coffee routine activate various parts of the brain in a matter of seconds. Getting up to get the coffeepot, pour it in a mug, and leaving extra room for cream fires up the occipital and parietal lobes, motor-sensory and sensory-motor cortices, the basal ganglia, cerebellum, and the frontal lobes, said Scientific American. If it takes that much brainpower to make coffee, imagine how much more is required by something truly complicated, like understanding a lesson in school or writing a report.
Scientists said it’s simply not fair to say 90 percent of your brain doesn’t matter, because all parts of the brain work. There’s no filler.