Let’s stop talking about how we only use 10% of our brain

by Phil Lowe
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If you were stopped on the street and asked “what percentage of your brain do you use?”, what would you answer? Would you say 10%, 100%, or some answer in between? The idea that humans only use 10% of their brain has been popularized in media for so long that most people now treat it as a fact. In reality, we use all of our brains most of the time and the 10% notion is completely untrue.

There are many movies and TV shows where the 10% idea is put forward. We have seen Bradley Cooper in the movie Limitless take a small tablet to increase his brain usage and suddenly he became the smartest person in the world. While it sounds great, it is totally false. The truth is that we use every part of our brain and every part is incredibly important to our lives. If we lose one percent of our brain we would notice the impact nevermind 90%. 

The common myth may have something to do with the brain scan images that we see so often. The image of a grey brain with a colored area at some part definitely suggests that we are not using a large portion of the brain at a given time. However, that is only if you don’t know how to read the chart. The colored blots actually mean those areas that are more active. The grey areas are still very active just not as active as the colored. 

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If you believed the myth until now, don’t worry. One study of Americans revealed that 65% of them believed it too. However, if you are a doctor or scientist and are involved in the study of brains, then you should really know this stuff. A study of psychology majors who focus on the functioning of the brain revealed that 33% did not know the 10% idea was false.

That is inexcusable because the 10% myth, although it sounds good, fails to be believable when placed under any examination. The best proof of this (apart from brain mapping that clearly shows we use every part of the brain) is in stroke victims. Stroke victims often damage a tiny portion of their brain and the impact is huge. People can lose the ability to speak, express certain emotions, and more. Clearly any damage to your brain will have a huge effect.

The other easy proof is based on evolution. The brain makes up around 2% of the human body mass, yet requires around 20% of our energy. Why do we prioritize the brain so much if it is leaving 90% idle? Our brain size and energy devotion is one of the big differences between humans and other mammals and is a clear reason why we could never get away with using just 10%. 

The myth itself may have been born in psychology as some studies in the past have suggested that humans only develop around 10% of their mental ability. These idea means that you could learn a bunch of languages but you only learn one, a very different idea. However, it could explain where the idea started and how it later became simplified, misunderstood, and then widely accepted.

Whatever the reason and origin of this myth, the good news is, it is false. You use all of your brains and are therefore the most advanced species on planet Earth. So if Bradley Cooper can achieve so much by using all of his brains, what can you achieve using yours? It turns out that you too are limitless so go out there and do your best.

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