10 Misconceptions about the Brain – Part I

10% of brain

You only use 10% of your brain

Actually, you use all of your brain almost 100% of the time – even as you sleep, the body is healing while the mind is cleaning house by making old connections permanent or canceling unused memory links. Additionally, stabilizing inner chemistry. As you sleep, the brainstem is active, maintaining breathing and heart rate. Even when you’re watching television or zoning out, you’re using the default system of your brain while intaking information. For those who refer to functional MRIs and PETs, the activity shown is after the machine has been calibrated on the resting state activity; thus the activity during the task is relative to resting state activity. Additional proof is seen in the anatomy of the brain itself. Our brains would not need as much complexity if only 10% were being used. Nature is a very efficient inventor, if a trait is unnecessary or resource-wasteful, then the quality tends to be cut. Using 10% would not evolve a brain as complex as we have today.

Just to give some background, the 10% theory is thought to be originated in psychologist and philosopher William James’ 1908 book The Energies of Men stating, “We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.”


Left v. Right Brained

This is a rather big misconception based on the anatomy of the brain. Most media sites sell articles which group people with similar behaviors into neat categories so individual behavior may be predictable (safe). Essentially, the brain is divided by hemispheres by function but not based on left and right handedness. The dominant hand only exhibits which region is dominant. The dominant hemisphere will be analytic in function, detail-oriented, and pertain to language, logic, and mathematics. The nondominant hemisphere will contain areas associated with creativity, music and spatial processing; however, schizophrenia has recently been thought to relate to extreme creativity. 10% of the world is left-handed, thus the right hemisphere is dominant, which defines analytics, mathematics, detail, and everything listed previously. Unfortunately, the media and popular psychology sites only apply rules associated with right-handed individuals, thus claiming left-handed individuals are more creative and intuitive than their counterparts. The truth of the matter is that all individuals are creative, analytical, and detail oriented in specific ways about their developmental processes, regardless of handedness.

31962069273_837af8e3ab_oBattle of the Sexes

We’ve all been there – talking to someone of the opposite sex and feeling like we speak two different languages. With evolving gender fluidity, gender differences researched since the infancy of psychology are being called to question. This debate is not without bias or political undertones. Due to the large portion of data prior to what could be considered a second gender revolution, research paper’s bias leans towards dimorphic differences between males and females. However, most of these papers study grown individuals who have, in some ways, been influenced at high degrees by society’s pre-existing roles through education, gender stereotypes, cultural values, and gender equity. The papers referred to in this section are the most recently published; although researchers still may have some bias, most include meta-analysis of previous work without the bias of a grant looming over the researcher’s head.

The problems standing in the way of gender differences are multifacetedly starting with development in utero to adulthood. One part is what gender does the individual identify with – and how hormones in the prenatal environment helped shape the individual in utero. Additionally, psychological disorders and the parental pressures to conform to a gender play a major role. Also, anatomical gender differences cannot connect with differences in persona or intellectual ability and how plasticity plays a role in development. Based on Janet Hyde’s research and meta-analysis of previous work on 124 psychological variables, 78% of effect sizes are close to, if not zero including the long-lasting preconception “Where boys outperform girls in math.” However, her research concedes there is a large gender difference in subcortical brain volumes, motor performance (d=2.18), and mental rotation of 3D objects (d=0.51-0.73). Overall male and female cognitive abilities are essentially the same at birth but are shaped further by the world around them and social pressures.

Extroversion v. Introversion


Again, another of case of generalizing a psychological theory and attempting to divide individuals into tidy behavioral groups. Extroversion and introversion originated in Hans Eysenck’s Theory of Personality broken into three dimensions. The three dimensions blend to create a personality with behavioral traits. The other two aspects include stability-neuroticism and psychoticism-normality. Extroversion is based on an “aroused nervous system,” mostly, individuals with extroversion tend to crave socializing and gain more energy from the presence of other individuals.

In contrast, introversion is the opposite. It tends to describe more reserved and quiet, lose energy when around large groups of people. Obviously, adhering strictly to either introversion or extroversion does not cover the entirety of an individual’s personality. For instance, I am an introvert. On a regular day, I can keep my energy high for roughly two hours while with friends but after that time limit the energy I expended socializing is drained and I need to be alone to reset. However, if I’m sad or if I’ve been dumped, I’m the exact opposite. I crave going out, meeting new people and any socializing possible. Basically, Eysenck knew that individuals are going to have a blend and although personality traits can be categorized they should not be divided on a strict basis between introversion and extroversion.

Mommy Issues DSCF3213

This misconception is pretty brief. Men, women, the judicial system, and the capitalist, American society believe women are the lead caretakers. Whether it’s from giving the mother sole custody in a divorce, awarding the wife alimony despite having full-grown children, or maternity leave, society has set women as the sole nurturers. This is a fallacy, that is harmful in some cases. Although women have the ability and choice whether to have children, it does not automatically make them well-equipped caretakers. In the paper Human Maternal Brain Plasticity: Adaptation to Parenting, researchers explore the behavior changes of the mother in late pregnancy to postpartum periods in relation to fMRIs and ERPs. Researchers found during late pregnancy, the mother exhibited increased vigilance to threats, increased sensitivity, and an increased attachment to the fetus. At postpartum, the mother was more sensitive to her child’s behavior, facial expressions and needs and exhibited more signs of worrying about the child. However, these responses were dampened if the woman was taking medication during or after the pregnancy if the mother suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety or other disorders. Once the roughly 2 or 3 years old the maternal behavior is decreased. However, this does not mean all women are able to handle the stress involved in raising the child during the infant’s sensitive period. Many studies from the Emotional Brain Institute find that stress from lack of resources and daily life has been shown to lead to child abuse even at young ages down to neonates. Essentially the research finds there is no such instinct as the “maternal” instinct, just the willingness to reproduce. Many individuals do not have the ability to cope with their own stress, much less the additional stress of raising a child in a stable, safe environment. In many cases, the men can provide the same care, if not better, than women.

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