Do People Actually Use Only 10 Percent of Their Brains?

Have you heard some people saying that humans only use 10% of their brains? While this neuromyth has spread very widely through talks, TV shows, and Sci-Fi movies, this article explores the truths and lies about this neuromyth.

If you have watched the movie Lucy (2014) you might remember a very curious story: a woman that, for different reasons, was able to use 100% of her brain. The whole story assumed the premise that such a thing would be extremely weird and complex to achieve. But, is it? Actually, no.

The assumption that a human only uses 10% of their brain is considered a neuromyth. Researchers such as Sean Hughes, Fiona Lyddy, and Sinead Lambe have found that this neuromyth is placed among one of the top misconceptions mostly assumed as general truth among the public. But where did this myth come from?


10% of Our Brain: True or False?

Even though a lot of movies and stories have explored this possibility, humans use most of their brains every day. Of course, not all of its parts are used at the same time and at the same moment. But the brain is used in almost its entire potential very frequently. With the technological advances in neuroscience research, there are instruments that allow doctors and scientists to monitor and measure brain activity, such as the Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and the Positron Emission Tomography (PET). These instruments have shown that brain activity in real-time goes beyond 10 percent, and includes a variety of activities: from breathing to complex thinking.

If we think of other relevant findings in neuroscience, it is important to see the brain as a fully used organ. For example, brain injuries are so dangerous because of the sensitivity of each neuron and its complex networking system. After World War II, studies with veterans gave initial findings of what they could or could not do depending on the place where their brains were damaged. Years later, surgeons studied with electric stimulation which parts of the brains of patients with epilepsy could work properly or not. These early studies allowed researchers to begin to understand that every part of the brain has a different and important function, and how interconnected brain cells work.

Another important argument is that the human body biologically tends to optimize the anatomical structure. By reducing useless organs or structures, it maximizes the function of parts of the body most commonly trained or used, such as the muscles with physical training. So if the brain had blank or useless spaces, then probably these parts would be eventually eliminated or diminished by the body. This means that, in terms of biological and energetic efficiency, it is more convenient for brains to have fully functional parts.


Possible Origins of This Myth

It is difficult to agree on a starting point where this myth originated. Popular tales that go from phrases attributed to Albert Einstein or Dale Carnegie, to sci-fi movies and series, have been attributed to reinforce this myth as a generally accepted truth without much thought. What is true is the fact that, in past centuries, the knowledge that our society had about brain functions was an even bigger mystery.

Certain researchers struggled with understanding how certain brain functions work. For example, Karl Lashley performed some studies with electric shocks and found that certain brain areas did not react to these shocks. Over time, other aspects of the brain were discovered: it was discovered that brains not only contain neurons but also glial cells to support neurons in their functions; the functions of each brain lobe; and the concept of neuroplasticity, are just a few examples.

The mystery of thinking that our brains might have a hidden and unbelievable potential to be unlocked would be mind-blowing. However, we use its potential every day, and each of its parts is so delicate as well as crucial for our lives. Therefore, we have the responsibility to cultivate good healthy habits to take care of our brain — both physically and mentally. Because we still have so much to learn about it!



Photo: Cast Of Thousands/Shutterstock


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