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Brain Myths

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Common Brain Myths Debunked

The human brain is amazing — made of 100 billion neurons that control everything from your movement to your personality. But it’s also often misunderstood. Here are 10 myths you may have heard about the brain, debunked by Borna Bonakdarpour, MD, behavioral neurologist at Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Myth No. 1: You only use 10 percent of your brain.

The truth is… Neurologists agree that the brain is always active, rapidly firing millions of neurons in the brain, even when you are sleeping.

Myth No. 2: Brain size affects intelligence.

The truth is… Intelligence is determined by the number of connections between brain cells, called synapses, not by the size of the brain itself. Fun Fact: An explosion of synapse formation occurs at about week 12 of a pregnancy, during early brain development.

Myth No. 3: Alcohol kills brain cells.

The truth is… Moderate alcohol use doesn’t kill brain cells. However, binge drinking or frequent, sustained drinking can damage the ends of neurons, called dendrites. This damage can affect the ability for neurons to convey messages to each other. In addition, people with alcohol addiction can develop a neurological disorder called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, resulting in vision changes, loss of muscle control and impaired memory.

Myth No. 4: Babies exposed to classical music end up smarter.

The truth is… Although it’s tempting to believe, there is no evidence to support the idea that playing classical music to a baby can make the baby smarter.

Myth No. 5: Left-brained people are more analytical and methodical, while right-brained people are creative or artistic.

The truth is… Scientists at the University of Utah have debunked the myth that people predominantly use one side of their brain more than the other.

Myth No. 6: The brain declines as you get older.

The truth is… Though some cognitive functions do decline as you get older, plenty of your mental skills actually improve with age. Vocabulary, comprehension, conflict resolution and emotional regulation are just a few areas in which older brains can perform better than their younger counterparts.

Myth No. 7: People have different learning styles.

The truth is… While teachers may try to structure their classrooms based on students’ learning styles, several studies indicate that there is no difference in how people learn. A study published in Anatomical Sciences Education involved data from hundreds of students who were surveyed to determine what kind of learner they thought they were. Teachers then began to tailor their lessons based on the students’ self-reported learning style. Scientists found that there was no significant improvement in the students’ test scores.

Myth No. 8: Brain games improve your memory and reasoning skills.

The truth is… The BBC commissioned a study to investigate this theory by asking more than 8,600 people aged 18 to 60 to play online brain games designed to improve memory and reasoning. The participants played the games for 10 minutes a day, three times a week. The study showed that after six weeks, the test subjects didn’t demonstrate improved cognitive function in tasks for which they did not specifically train in the games.

Myth No. 9: Your IQ stays the same throughout your life.

The truth is… Research has shown that your IQ can fluctuate while you age, but it’s important to note that testing someone’s intelligence is an imperfect science. Fluid intelligence, or the ability to think quickly and recall information, peaks at the age of 18 and then tapers off as you get older. Conversely, someone’s emotional intelligence can continue to improve until the age of 30.

Myth No. 10: Your brain works better under pressure.

The truth is… Though the pressure of a deadline can motivate you to work harder, it doesn’t result in better brain performance. In fact, stress is more likely to impair brain function.

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