A recent study revealed that two-thirds of the American public believe we only use 10% of our brains, and that is just one of our most widely held “neuromyths,” according to a recent account in The Wall Street Journal. Ironically, “the teachers who knew the most about neuroscience believed the most myths.” (See, “Using Just 10% of Your Brain? Think Again.”)
Other myths include the belief that rich environments stimulate the brain and that we each have our own styles of learning. Patently false, psychologists and neuroscientists refer to that first belief as the “10% myth.” But where did it come from? And why do people continue to believe it?
They must be thinking abut the unconscious, where an extraordinary amount of mental activity does go on out of awareness. To be sure, the full brain is actively employed, even if its activity is not available to consciousness. But it can easily seem to lay people that unknown or unconscious means inactive or dormant.
New information from the senses is constantly being taken in by he brain, though most of it is discarded. According to one psychologist, the brain is capable of processing only 40 of the 11,000,000 bits of information it receives from our senses each second. To be retained, the new bits of information need to be assimilated to memory, while responses are being automatically generated. Indeed, research has shown that the brain has usually initiated a response to a stimulus before we actually believe we are “deciding” to respond. In other words consciousness lags behind behavior.