Top 10 Myths About the Brain

You Only Use 10 Percent of Your Brain
Why use only a fraction when you could use the whole glorious thing?
Why use only a fraction when you could use the whole glorious thing?
Don Farrall/Photodisc/Getty Images

We've often been told that we only use about 10 percent of our brains. Famous people such as Albert Einstein and Margaret Mead have been quoted as stating a variation of it. This myth is probably one of the most well-known myths about the brain, in part because it's been publicized in the media for what seems like forever. Where did it come from? Many sources point to an American psychologist of the early 1900s named William James, who said that "the average person rarely achieves but a small portion of his or her potential" [source: AARP]. Somehow, that was converted into only using 10 percent of our brain.

This seems really puzzling at first glance. Why would we have the biggest brain in proportion to our bodies of any animal (as discussed in the sixth myth in our list) if we didn't actually use all of it? Many people have jumped on the idea, writing books and selling products that claim to harness the power of the other 90 percent. Believers in psychic abilities such as ESP point to it as proof, saying that people with these abilities have tapped into the rest of their brains.

Here's the thing, though; it's not really true. In addition to those 100 billion neurons, the brain is also full of other types of cells that are continually in use. We can become disabled from damage to just small areas of the brain depending on where it's located, so there's no way that we could function with only 10 percent of our brain in use.

Brain scans have shown that no matter what we're doing, our brains are always active. Some areas are more active at any one time than others, but unless we have brain damage, there is no one part of the brain that is absolutely not functioning. Here's an example. If you're sitting at a table and eating a sandwich, you're not actively using your feet. You're concentrating on bringing the sandwich to your mouth, chewing and swallowing it. But that doesn't mean that your feet aren't working -- there's still activity in them, such as blood flow, even when you're not actually moving them.

So there's no hidden, extra potential you can tap into, in terms of actual brain space. But there's still so much to learn about the brain. You can start by clicking on some of the links on the next page.

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