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A weekly show where we debunk common misconceptions. This week, Elliott discusses some misconceptions about the brain!

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Hi, I'm Elliot, this is Mental_Floss Video. Today I'm gonna talk about some misconceptions about the brain that are totally going to blow your mind. Come on.


Misconception number one: We only use ten percent of our brains. This is still a very prominent myth that has been around since maybe as early as the 19th century, but it's not true. According to neurologist Barry Gordon from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, "We use virtually every part of the brain, and...[most of] the brain is active almost all the time. Let's put it this way: the brain represents three percent of the body's weight and uses twenty percent of the body's energy." So, Hollywood, please stop making movies about this misconception. Thank you.

Misconception number two: The bigger the brain, the smarter the person. This one remains controversial, but scientists have yet to find a definitive link between brain size and intelligence. Some studies have used MRIs to show correlation between higher IQ and bigger brain, but many experts are hesitant to make the connection because the IQ scale has a limited ability to test intelligence. Plus, it's just unlikely that brain size is the only factor when it comes to being smart. It is possible the size of the brain parts may be correlated with skill. For instance, blind people may experience growth in parts of the brain to improve hearing.

Misconception number three: "Right-brained" and "left-brained" people are different. Okay, so the common belief is that people who are "right-brained" tend to be more creative and people who are "left-brained" are better at logic and math. It's true that both sides of the brain tackle different tasks. For instance, the left side of the brain typically processes language, and the right side does things like spatial ability. But both sides of the brain are constantly communicating. Basically, unless one whole hemisphere is damaged, neither side of your brain is going to dominate your personality or abilities. According to cognitive neuroscientist Kara Federmeier, "Research shows that, overall, the abilities that make up math skills arise from processing that takes place in BOTH hemispheres...and that damage to either hemisphere can cause difficulties with math."

Misconception number four: The brains of men and women are wired in different ways. A 2013 study from the University of Pennsylvania really confused people and news media about the differences in the brain based on gender. According to the study, women tend to have more connections between their two brain hemispheres and men had more connections within the hemispheres. This led people to believe that women are more intuitive and better multitaskers, whereas men were better at doing things like reading maps. But experts took a closer look at the study and found that these differences weren't all that prominent. It's also noteworthy that the study did not test things like intuition, multitasking, and map-reading. Those were just assumptions that came later. See what happens when you assume things? It is true that the brains of men and women differ in things like size and amount of gray and white matter, but how much this actually affects the way men and women act is still a highly debated topic in the world of neuroscience. According to the Scientific American, "No research...has demonstrated gender-specific differences in how networks of neurons become connected when we learn new skills. Even if some gender differences do eventually emerge, they will likely be small and based on averages--in other words, they will not necessarily be relevant to any given individual." So you could say that the gray and white matter don't matter.

Misconception number five: The brain is gray. So we tend to picture brains like the ones we see preserved in jars, but a brain inside of a head is actually many colors, including gray, white, black, and red. That basically means that the brain is actually grosser than what you imagine.

Misconception number six: People can be "visual learners" or "auditory learners." You've probably heard these terms to describe a person's learning style, but as of now, there's no proof that every person or child has a different learning style. In a 2009 study published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, reviewed all existing literature and studies claiming to prove that there are learning styles, researchers found that none of the studies used a randomized research design, making none of them credible. Good job, scientists. Speaking of which...

Misconception number seven: Genetics can affect whether you're a "math person." This is a big area of conversation, especially since we know that certain cultures excel in math. *cough* CHINA! So yes, math ability is partially genetic. But a lot of it actually has to do with whether or not a person believes that it's genetic, leading to self-fulfilling prophecies. Studies show that students who agree with the sentence, "You can always greatly change how intelligent you are," tend to get higher grades in school. Intelligence in certain subjects has a lot to do with preparation, and students who know that to be true tend to do better regardless of genetics. Keep trying.

Misconception number eight: Drugs can put holes in your brain. That's gross. The only thing that'll put a hole in your brain is physical trauma. People with drug addiction may experience a lowered amount of neurotransmitters or even a change in size for certain brain structures, but there will not be any holes.

Misconception number nine: Brain damage is permanent. Actually, the brain is able to repair itself in many instances of brain damage, though it depends on the type and severity of the damage. For example, a mild concussion only affects a person temporarily. If they recover properly and don't keep getting concussions, that damage isn't permanent, and there's therapy for many different types of brain damage.

Misconception number ten: Certain brain games can improve memory and intelligence. There's some popular brain games whose inventors claim that they can make us smarter and, like, even help prevent dementia or Alzheimer's disease, but they're probably not that effective. In October of 2012, Stanford University brought a group together to discuss brain games. It consisted of over 70 academics, cognitive psychologists, and neuroscientists. Their consensus report read, "There is little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life."

Thank you for watching Misconceptions on Mental_Floss Video. If you guys have a topic for an upcoming Misconceptions episode that you would like to see, let us know what it is in the comments and we'll check it out. And I'll see you next week. Bye!