The brain is the most advanced piece of evolutionary hardware in the human arsenal. It’s so advanced, however, that we’re still trying to understand just how it works.
Thankfully, some smart minds have built useful tools like functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. These help us better understand how living brains operate, clearing up a few long-held myths.
1. Right Brain vs. Left Brain
Some people claim to be “right-brained” because they tend to view life more creatively and subjectively. People deemed to be “left-brained," meanwhile, are supposedly more analytical and likelier to use reason.
A recent study, however, has completely debunked the right-brain vs. left-brain myth. Scanning 1,011 brains over a two-year period, research published in PLOS One found no proof that some people use one side of the brain more often than the other.
2. Humans Use Only 10 Percent of Their Brains
On certain days, it may not feel like your brain is working at its full potential. But there’s no proof anywhere that suggests the human brain only utilizes 10 percent of its mass.
As the Smithsonian Institute puts it, “Brains are expensive—it takes a lot of energy to build brains during fetal and childhood development and maintain them in adults. Evolutionarily, it would make no sense to carry around surplus brain tissue.”
While you technically don’t need all of your brain to function, you need quite a lot more than 10 percent.
3. ‘Why Did I Come in Here?’
You may feel like you’re losing your mind when you walk into a room and forget why you went there in the first place.
Researchers at the University of Notre Dame looked into this phenomenon and found that the brain compartmentalizes information so well that a doorway or a similar physical barrier can cue your brain that you've moved on to another task, so it's time to file recent information away.
While it can be annoying at times, this same phenomenon is beneficial, because it allows you to focus on one task at a time.
4. Concentration Makes for Better Decisions
While you don’t want to make a big decision like buying a house at the spur of the moment, sometimes forgetting about something for a while can make for better decision-making.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon used fMRIs on 27 people before having them think about difficult decisions, such as buying a car. During later memorization lessons, researchers say the subjects’ visual and prefrontal cortices—the parts of the brain responsible for decision-making and learning—continued to process the decision while they were busy thinking about something else.
5. Listening to Mozart Makes You Smarter
Many new parents play Mozart CDs in the hope that the notes will unlock their child’s inner genius.
One study in 1993 involved playing Mozart to 36 students who would go on to score an average of eight points higher on an IQ test. Thus began the modern myth of “the Mozart effect.”
The problem is that the effect only relates to spatial-temporal reasoning, a field of study in computer science. Years after the study, researchers were clear in stating that they never said Mozart's music increased overall intelligence.
While Mozart made some good tunes, he didn’t have the ability to unlock the secrets of the human brain.
6. Humans Are Getting Smarter
This myth is up for debate. While our technologies are more sophisticated than ever, there’s fodder for the argument that humans aren’t evolving along with their smartphones.
Gerald Crabtree, head of a genetics lab at Stanford University, argues that we have circumvented the natural selection process and that, because of technological and medical advances, humans are now dumber and more emotionally unstable than we were 3,000 years ago.
When humans were constantly hunting and avoiding being someone else’s dinner, one mistake could mean death, and an unsuccessful person’s genes died with them. Those who made the smartest decisions lived the longest and were able to procreate. Life has become much more forgiving, and now all genes have a chance to spread.
7. Alcohol Kills Brain Cells
While you may not feel smarter when you’re hungover, it’s not because the alcohol has killed off your brain cells. Brain scans of alcoholics have shown that while their brain cells didn’t die, the ends of neurons were damaged, affecting how well brain cells communicated with one another.
According to research from alcohol expert Roberta J. Pentney, a professor of anatomy and cell biology at the University at Buffalo, the damage alcohol does to these cells is typically reversible.
8. Something Else to Ponder
Your brain is the only organ to recognize its own name, and as you read this, your brain is attempting to learn more about itself, yet another thing no other organ can do.
Think about that for a while.