Why You May Have Heard Humans Only Use 10% of the Brain and Why That’s Wrong



  Created By Alane Lim

You may have heard that humans only use 10 percent of their brain power, and that if you could unlock the rest of your brainpower, you could do so much more. You could become a super genius, or acquire psychic powers like mind reading and telekinesis. However, there is a powerful body of evidence debunking the 10 percent myth. Scientists have consistently shown that humans use their entire brain throughout each day.
Despite the evidence, the 10 percent myth has inspired many references in the cultural imagination. Films like “Limitless” and “Lucy” depict protagonists who develop godlike powers thanks to drugs that unleash the previously inaccessible 90 percent of the brain. A 2013 study showed that about 65 percent of Americans believe the trope, and a 1998 study showed that a full third of psychology majors, who focus on the workings of the brain, fell for it.

Neuropsychology studies how the anatomy of the brain affects someone’s behavior, emotion, and cognition. Over the years, brain scientists have shown that different parts of the brain are responsible for specific functions, whether it’s recognizing colors or problem solving. Contrary to the 10 percent myth, scientists have proven that every part of the brain is integral for our daily functioning, thanks to brain imaging techniques like positron emission tomography and functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Research has yet to find a brain area that is completely inactive. Even studies that measure activity at the level of single neurons have not revealed any inactive areas of the brain. Many brain imaging studies that measure brain activity when a person is doing a specific task show how different parts of the brain work together. For example, while you are reading this text on your smartphone, some parts of your brain, including those responsible for vision, reading comprehension, and holding your phone, will be more active.


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[Alane Lim]

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Ph.D., Materials Science and Engineering, Northwestern University. 

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