Psycho Babble

Not Enough Brain (A Webcomic)

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On the persistence of a myth

By Jessica Love

June 5, 2014


 

“It’s a misnomer to say that we only use 10 percent of our brains. In fact, our whole brain is always ‘on’ and consuming energy,” says Corey White, a neuropsychologist at Syracuse University. “However, it is accurate to say that certain brain systems are more or less active at different times. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It would be like complaining that I am only contracting 10 percent of my muscles when I am standing.” There you have it. But though it’s been refuted time and again, the tenacity of the misinformation—often accompanied by a second, equally preposterous statistic about geniuses using 20 percent of their brains—has always intrigued me.

Why is it so sticky? I suspect a lot is at play. For one, our world is a weird place. Plenty of incomprehensibly bizarre facts are true: our expensive granite countertops are just 99.99% empty space; time passes slightly more quickly on our upstairs balcony than in the basement. Another factor: self-improvement junkies that we are, we want the statistic to be true. And then there’s the sense in which the myth just feels right. Sometimes our minds fail us, or surprise us. We remember something we’d once forgotten, and are motivated by factors we don’t consciously understand. This gives us the sense that our brains are vast and many-chambered, with door after door just waiting to be kicked down.

 

Jessica Love recently received a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and is currently a science writer and editor at Northwestern University.

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