Do you believe that you use one side of the brain more than the other? Or that you only use around 10% of your brain capacity? Or maybe you’re convinced one way of learning is the ideal way for you? If so, all three cases are neuromyths or products of pop science.
As it happens, all three of these myths have some connection to reality. However they occurred from scientific results that have been misinterpreted. The language used by brain researchers and neuropsychologists is often very different from the language used by pedagogues and people in general. Therefore misunderstandings may easily occur. Interviews of teachers in the Netherlands and England revealed that nearly 80% believed in such neuromyths. Some thought we learn more after short sessions of physical activity that demands communication between the right brain side and the left brain side. Moreover, more than half believed children learn more if they’re allowed to utilize their preferred learning style or method. The teachers were also convinced that humans can be categorized by which brain side they mainly use. Similar findings among teachers have been done in other countries too.
These familiar ideas about the brain and learning are myths. Lets take a closer look at some of them to understand why they can’t be considered facts.
We Only Use 10% of our Brain Capacity
This idea is perhaps the most widespread neuromyth. It originates from parapsychology and anatomical studies of the relationship between neurons and supporting cells in the brain. This myth might have become publicly widespread when it was used in a commercial which was broadcast right after a radio interview with Albert Einstein in the 1920’s. Yet, controlled scientific experiments have not found any signs that we use only a small part of our brain capacity. Contradictory, studies on subjects with brain damage in different areas of the brain suggest that all areas of the brain have particular functions. These studies also show that healthy individuals use all parts of the brain. Still the myth continues to flourish, and it has been used to develop pedagogical methods. But its false. We use our entire brains, and all of our brain cells have to perform some kind of activity in order to stay alive.
We Have Multiple Intelligence
The theory suggesting that we’re born with seven different types of intelligence such as musical, language or social intelligence was proposed by the American psychologist Howard Gardner. The idea was well received because it opened up to considering intelligence as more than logic or mathematical intelligence. Although the theory is appealing, it does not cohere with what we now know about brain functions. In order to for example play an instrument many different parts of the brain have to work together in order to coordinate muscles, vision and hearing. These areas of the brain are also involved in entirely different situations. Yet the theory of multiple intelligence is still widespread, and some teachers even try to adapt their teaching to what intelligence they believe is the highest developed in the child. Gardner himself doesn’t condone this connection to pedagogy. He never claimed that these intelligence were the same as styles of learning. Its possible that his theory wouldn’t have been misinterpreted if he’d use the term «skills» in stead of intelligence.
We Learn the Most through our Preferred Style of Learning
The idea that most children learn the most through one out of three styles of learning has gotten many followers. This theory claims that some learn the most through things that appeal to vision such as pictures or diagrams. Other learn the most through hearing or through movement and touch. Yet, there is no scientific ground to indicate that different styles of learning result in more or better learning. Seeing that we don’t just use one sense at a time, but several simultaneously, this isn’t so strange.
We use one Side of the Brain More than the Other
The idea that creative people mostly use the right side of their brains while analytical people mostly use the left does not hold scientific ground. This misunderstanding originates from research on subjects who have had the connection between the two brain sides cut off. The results were communicated in an over-simplifying way and were therefore misinterpreted. We know now that creative thinking demands the usage of both brain sides. We also know that the two sides compliment each other and that they’re both involved in almost everything we do. Therefore its incorrect that understanding of grammar, for example, is located in the left brain side, while emotions occur in the right. Most activities involve both brain sides. And so, designing teaching in according to brain sides is meaningless.