Debunking the Myth That You Use Only 10 Percent of Your Brain
Some ideas get into the public consciousness and come to be spouted as facts even though they’re merely myths. One such myth is that we use only 10 percent of our brains. The other 90 percent—well, who knows? Maybe it’s sitting there twiddling its cranial thumbs, just waiting for the opportunity to come to our aid. Just imagine the extent of our abilities if we could use our brain’s full capacity.
There’s speculation as to how this myth began, but however it came about, it’s understandable how it took hold: We see our limitations and shortcomings as evidence of brains that aren’t functioning at peak capacity. And in the myth-making business, 10 percent is a nice, round, easy-to-remember number. It would never have taken hold as “We only use 17.38 percent of our brains.”
Certainly, we sometimes fail to use our critical-thinking abilities. Critical thinking, after all, is no simple matter. It entails actively analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing information. Most of us are neither born knowing how to think critically nor the recipients of training in how to do it.
As a result, most of us occasionally fall short in our critical thinking, usually without even realizing it. We think illogically, jump to conclusions, make false assumptions, and fall victim to any of several dozen cognitive biases. In addition, our memories sometimes serve us poorly. It’s not just that we can’t remember what we had for lunch yesterday; we’re also subject to memories of things that never happened. Research shows that it’s even possible to induce false memories through suggestion.
The reality, though, is that we use virtually every part of the brain, and most of the brain is active most of the time. Not all of the brain’s regions are concurrently firing at any given moment, but most are continually active over a twenty-four-hour period. Even in sleep, a good chunk of the brain is active.
None of this means that we can’t develop our mental abilities. We can do exercises and activities to improve our memory, do calculations faster, learn to speak another language, or increase our critical thinking skills. And exciting research in neuroplasticity has demonstrated that our brains aren’t static but can form new connections throughout life. In fact, through specific exercises as this fascinating video explains, we might be able to enhance brain flexibility and adaptability.
If people claim that you’re using only 10 percent of your brain, you might ask them which 10 percent you’re using. Don’t be surprised if they mumble and fumble. After all, people who say this aren’t using the 100 percent of their brains that’s already active to realize the folly of their claim!