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Myth of the Month

States that average person uses only 10 percent of her or his brain. Comments of several neuroscientists about the 10 percent figure.

You may have heard the oft-quoted statistic that the average person uses only10 percent of his or her brain. In fact, a recent article in the Chicago Tribune confidently declared that even Albert Einstein made use of a mere 11 percent of his gray matter. While these stats might make lively cocktail party chatter, they do lack one essential element of a good factoid: a basis in reality. That's what PSYCHOLOGY TODAY confirmed when we asked several prominent neuroscientists about the 10 percent figure. Some of their comments:

Dale Purves, M.D., professor of neurobiology, Duke University Medical Center: "The statement is complete and utter nonsense. Whoever made this claim had little or no knowledge of brain physiology. Individual brain cells may be quiet for a time, but there are no silent brain regions."

Clifford Saper, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology, Harvard Medical School: "I have been looking for the source of this absurd assertion for a long time, but I have never been able to track it down. To my knowledge, there is not a single scientific observation in the last hundred years that supports it. Studies show that virtually all the nerve cells in the nervous system are `on' nearly all the time--including during sleep."

PHOTO (COLOR): Never a dull moment: ever-vigilant brain cells at work.