How well do you know your brain? Maybe not as well as you think. According to a new piece on the science and health site Vox, many of the commonly accepted "facts" about the human brain are pure hokum. These are three of them; You can find the full piece here.

1. Listening to Mozart makes babies smarter.

I was one of the many people who gave Baby Einstein CDs to my friends with newborns. While the gift may inspire early appreciation for Mozart's genius, it definitely won't help those kids with their SAT scores. The Mozart-makes-you-smarter myth got started in 1993 when a study showed that college students who listened to his music for 10 minutes subsequently did better on a spatial test. 

But it turns out the improvement was only in spatial tasks such as solving a maze, and even that only lasted for 10 to 15 minutes. Next time, I'm knitting booties.

2. The right side of your brain is creative while the left side is logical.

The first problem with this idea is that we may not all agree what "logic" and "creativity" consist of. People who write computer programs or complex mathematical equations will tell you there's a lot of creativity involved. Whereas, if you're writing a sonnet, you'll have to call on your language skills, which are mostly (though not entirely) on the left side of your brain. The truth is that most activities that we think of as either logical or creative take both sides of the brain to do.

On the other hand, there are very definite differences between how the left and right sides of the brain perceive the world, differences that we can integrate to create a richer understanding of our lives. For a true understanding of how our divided brain works, the psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist has created a fascinating and brief animation that explains the differences in detail.

3. We only use a small portion of our brain.

It's not clear where this misconception came from, but it is clear that it's wrong. With fMRI (functional magnetic resource imaging) able to show us exactly which areas of the brain are in use depending what we're doing or thinking about, scientists now know that we pretty much use our entire brain during an ordinary day. 

As the Vox piece points out, the notion that we don't use most of our brains makes no sense if you think about it. The brain is a metabolic resource hog, taking up some 20 percent of our energy. We would be pretty inefficient creates if most of that energy were wasted.

Published on: Jul 30, 2016
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