Reality Check: Don't Be Fooled By These Myths About The Human Brain

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The human brain is one of the most incredible organs that has ever evolved. 

Our autonomic nervous system is in charge of things our brains do without us even having to think about them, such as breathing, digesting, and how quickly our hearts pump blood. At the same time it's doing those, the brain is also allowing us to move our bodies, communicate, think, eat, remember facts, and more. 

The field of neuroscience has been making incredible strides toward unlocking the mysteries of the brain, but there is still a lot to learn about how our neurons make everything possible. There are still some things, however, that get repeated about the brain, even though science has debunked them as myths a long time ago.

For this edition of Reality Check, here are five myths about the brain we need to cut out of our memories once and for all:

Myth 1: Our brains help us distinguish five senses.

We all know that sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch are our five main senses, but that's far from the only ways we have to sense our environment. 

While our eyes, ears, noses, tongues, and hands send a lot of information to our brains, we also use the rest of our bodies to understand the world and our place in it. Our skin gives us the ability to detect things like pressure, temperature, and we might begin to itch if something potentially harmful is making contact with us.

We also feel pain to alert us that we have an injury to attend to, an internal clock, a sense of balance, and an understanding of where our arms and legs are in relation to the rest of our body. Some psychologists maintain that we have nine main senses, but others assert there could be as many as 21

Myth 2: We only use 10 percent of our brains.

The myth that we only use 10 percent of our brains is something that is repeated often (especially in movies), but simply isn't true. We might not be using all of our brains all of the time, but we do use about 100 percent of it throughout a normal day. 

If you look at it logically, this myth just doesn't even make sense. Out of all the oxygen brought into our bodies, the brain uses a whopping 25 percent of it. There's no way such an energetically taxing organ would have survived throughout our evolutionary history if we were barely using it. 

Myth 3: Getting knocked in the head can cause/cure amnesia.

Another common plot we see in movies is that a hard knock to the head can cause someone to forget everything about their lives. Only later, when they sustain another strike to their noggin, do they regain their memory. There are many different kinds of amnesia that deal with forgetting previous memories or the inability to create new ones, but a bump on the head isn't an on/off switch for it. 

While a traumatic head injury like a concussion can affect memory, it generally makes it harder to recall recent events. For that reason, many athletes with a suspected concussion are asked to name the team they're playing against or if they know the score. Hitting them in the head again won't make the memories clearer, it could just cause another concussion and possibly affect long-term memories.

Myth 4: We accurately perceive the world around us.

The GIF above is filled with images of some of the most recognizable celebrities in the world. Still, shifting our focus away from their faces and to the cross proves that our vision isn't as great as we think it is. 

Our brains receive so much information (see Myth 1) all the time that it will sometimes take shortcuts in order to process all of it quickly. These shortcuts are created from our previous experiences, which is why we can be fooled by optical illusions. We also tend to ignore a lot of what we see because we don't view it as necessary.

Sensory overload from our eyes isn't the only way we get things wrong. We also have a lot of cognitive biases, which cause us to misread certain situations and make poor decisions, and superstitions can make us think we have a level of control that doesn't actually exist. 

Myth 5: Our memories are extremely reliable.

Though we may like to think that we remember everything we've said and done perfectly, that's simply not the case. 

When we experience an event, our memory doesn't save it just like a computer file, ready to be recalled later. Instead, our distorted perception (see Myth 4) alters the memory, even changing some key details without doing it intentionally. Hearing other people talk about a shared experience can change how we recall it for ourselves, which does have some real world implications.

Because our memories can be so faulty, eyewitness testimonies are notoriously inaccurate. This is unfortunate, given how highly they are still regarded by the justice system

The Final Word:

Humans are the most intelligent species that has ever appeared on the planet, even if our brains have some flaws.

We sometimes miss things that happen right before our eyes, misremember events and details, or allow silly things like bias and superstition affect our lives. The more we understand the brain's shortcomings, the better we'll be going forward. Nobody is correct all the time, so it's important to cut ourselves some slack when we make a mistake or get something wrong. 

Our brains aren't perfect, so how could we expect ourselves to be?

Check back with A Plus every Monday for a new topic of Reality Check!

Cover image: Shutterstock


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