”Men are from Mars, women are from Venus”, “We generally only use 10% of the brain”, “Right-brained personality vs left-brained personality”…
You must have heard a lot of brain and psychological myths like this, of course. I should also have heard a lot of rumors refuted. But no amount of debunking the rumors can stop bestsellers and marketing campaigns from spreading them again and again.
New Year, New Year, New Year, Dangdang.
So what’s wrong with these myths about the brain? When faced with so-called “high-tech” products in brain science and psychology, what kind of “dark eyes” do ordinary people need to avoid being fooled?
We usually only use 10% of our brain?
Our Homo sapiens brain accounts for only 3% of our total body weight, but consumes 20% of our total energy intake. But there are always people who believe that our brains are only developed 10%.
In the movie “Superbody”, the protagonist Lucy is a superhuman who has liberated the remaining 90% of “brain potential”. But I’m afraid even she doesn’t know why Homo sapiens kept this 90% of his brain. Can’t blame her. From an evolutionary perspective, if 90% of the brain is not important for our survival and reproduction, then natural selection should not leave them alone – after all, the brain of Homo sapiens is too energy-consuming.
Today, this rumor is still widely circulated. Barry Gordon, a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University, believes that we are very willing to believe that we have great potential, and the “10% brain” rumor allows us to explain our shortcomings: I can’t remember vocabulary, I can’t write homework, I can’t read papers… This is all because I don’t make full use of my brain.
But this kind of rumor not only has no scientific basis, but also does a disservice to science popularization work.
We now know that damage to almost any brain structure results in impaired cognitive function. If only 10% of the brain is used by us, then damage to the remaining 90% should not result in any functional impairment. Secondly, many studies have shown that when we perform most cognitive functions, far more than 10% of the brain areas are active. In addition, unused neurons and neuronal connections gradually degenerate, yet autopsies of normal brains do not reveal widespread neuronal degeneration.
In fact, in daily activities, a person uses almost 100% of his brain. Even during sleep, the brain’s prefrontal lobe and primary somatosensory cortex are still active – the volume of these two cortices alone accounts for more than 10% of the brain’s volume.
Therefore, the spread of the “10% brain” rumor seriously distorts scientific conclusions. Our potential does not come from an “untapped” brain, but from the continuous reshaping and improvement of the brain itself.
Left brain logic, right brain art?
Do the left and right brains function differently? This controversial topic is called “lateralization of brain function” in neuroscience.
In fact, we already know that some brain functions do have lateralization, such as language. As early as more than a hundred years ago, two French doctors discovered that two areas located in the frontal and temporal lobes of the left brain, namely Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are closely related to the production and understanding of language.
Most patients with damage to Broca’s area are unable to produce language normally. For example, when trying to express the sentence “I want to drink coffee,” they will say “I. Coffee. Want.” And patients with damage to Wernicke’s area, You cannot correctly understand what others say. Therefore, it has long been a consensus that “language function is located in the left brain.” However, this consensus has gradually changed as people understand more about the brain. In recent decades, scientists have realized that lateralization of language function is related to handedness (handedness). In other words, the Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area of left-handers are sometimes formed in the right brain, and the language functions of some left-handers and double-handers do not even have lateralization.
In a study published in the journal Brain, researchers found that as the degree of left-handedness increases, the probability that language functions are located on the right side of the brain gradually increases. This means that the rules of lateralization of brain function may not be so universally applicable.
Since language does not conform to unified lateralization rules, what about more complex cognitive functions?
Indeed, there is a small amount of lateralization in some cognitive functions. Our understanding of brain function lateralization mainly comes from research on split-brain patients around the 1960s. The corpus callosum, the collection of axons that connects the two halves of the brain in most mammals, is removed in split-brain patients for certain surgical needs. Therefore, the experimenters could study the two hemispheres separately. These studies have found that the left brain is mainly responsible for analysis and oral expression, while the right brain is mainly responsible for spatial information and artistic appreciation.
However, it is inappropriate to directly generalize these research results to everyone.
First of all, most people’s corpus callosum is intact, so in daily life, there is continuous communication between the two hemispheres, which is completely different from split-brain patients. Second, most cognitive tasks in daily life are not as clearly demarcated as tasks in experiments-the analysis can be the analysis of a piece of text or the analysis of a painting. These daily tasks require the cooperation of both halves of the brain to achieve maximum efficiency.
In an article published in Psychology Today, psychologist Christian Jarrett believes that the traditional sense of “left-brain logic, right-brain art” has a convenient sense of simplicity. This division allows us to place ourselves into one of these camps. Therefore, although this classification is wrong, the meaning behind it may be far greater than scientific knowledge itself.
Are the cognitive abilities of men and women significantly different?
”Boys are suitable for science, and girls are suitable for liberal arts.”
This commonplace topic has always implied a wishful assumption: men are naturally good at logical thinking, while women are better at playing music, chess, calligraphy and painting. However, research in recent decades has gradually made people realize that even if men and women are different, it is not in the way they think, but in the anatomy of the brain – but this difference is difficult to explain.
For example, scientists used an imaging technique to look at brain connections in men and women—the connections between the left and right hemispheres, as well as between brain regions. They found that same-brain and same-hemisphere connections were more common in men, while women had more cross-brain and cross-hemisphere connections. The research team therefore believes that these findings indicate that the male brain focuses more on the coordination of perception and movement, while the female brain places more emphasis on communication between brain areas responsible for logical analysis.
Same-brain and same-hemisphere connections are more common in male brains, while female brains have more cross-brain and cross-hemisphere connections | Ingalhalikar, M.,…, and Ragini Verma. (2014). ‘Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain.’PNAS.
However, it should be noted that this study ignored an issue: male brains are generally larger than female brains.
Some researchers believe that this difference in the way men and women’s brains are wired is largely due to differences in brain size, which creates different nutritional, efficiency, etc. needs. A study from Hanyang University in South Korea provides support for this theory: as brain size increases, the thickness of the cerebral cortex becomes very small, but the complexity of the sulci increases greatly. Therefore, brains of different sizes cannot be compared directly between each other, but rather the different demands provided by different sizes must be taken into account.
Another important issue is that the brain is also very plastic. In other words, the brain connections that are “prescribed” by innate conditions will continue to be changed after birth. Therefore, the “connection map” of the adult brain does not provide relatively valid evidence for cognitive differences between men and women.
Dr. Anne Fausto Sterling of the American Association for the Advancement of Science believes that the differential treatment of men and women in the social environment, such as differential education and different work environments, is likely to help shape certain differences in the brains of men and women. So be careful about the “gender trap” when interpreting the data provided by neuroscience.
Can listening to classical music make babies smarter?
Classical music, especially Mozart’s piano sonatas, has long been associated with “prenatal education” and “parenting bible”. The popular “Mozart Effect” points out that infants and young children can improve their intellectual performance by listening to this kind of prenatal education music, thereby “winning at the starting line.”
The Mozart Effect became well-known in the mid-1990s, and its effectiveness gradually extended beyond parenting; when the author of “Myths of the Mind” visited a farm in Italy, the farmer proudly declared that his cows were listening to classical music Growing up with music – this produces more milk.
The origin of the Mozart Effect comes from a 1993 Nature paper. In the study, psychologist Frances Rauscher of the University of Wisconsin and others played Mozart’s “Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K. 448” and a passage to two of three groups of participants. The people in the third group were given voice instructions to relax, while the third group was asked to rest quietly for ten minutes. They found that compared to the voice instruction group and the quiet group, participants in the K.448 group had a temporary significant improvement in spatial cognitive ability, and this improvement disappeared within fifteen minutes.
As the popularity of this paper increased, there was a craze for Mozart’s sonatas all over the world. However, more and more studies have subsequently found that the reproducibility of this study is very low, and Mozart’s music cannot improve the spatial cognitive abilities of infants and young children. In addition, some studies have found that as long as you listen to your favorite music, your spatial cognitive ability will be temporarily improved.
These studies suggest that the Mozart Effect either does not exist at all or, if it does exist, has only a temporary effect. More importantly, a meta-analysis published in the journal Intelligence found that many studies with significant effects were related to Rauscher’s team, which reduces the credibility of the Mozart Effect.
The truth may be as the authors of this meta-analysis put it: Listening to Mozart or Bach improves our cognitive abilities compared to listening to nothing at all—it’s long been known that stimulation improves intellectual performance .
How to dispel myths?
In our daily life, we are exposed to far more brain and psychological myths than these, and you may think of many more. The origins of these myths are actually very complex, and they are not all fabricated by “intentional people”. They may become myths because people simplify and distort the research, or they may simply be re-questioned because of the academic misconduct of the researcher or the poor reproducibility of the research itself.
But no matter what, we cannot ignore the negative impact these myths have on ordinary people and the scientific community. On the one hand, they will be mixed into information that actually has a large amount of experimental basis, confusing the truth and ultimately weakening the value of the experimental basis. On the other hand, rumors such as “men and women have very different cognitive abilities” may intensify existing stereotypes, damage the rights of both men and women, and affect social decision-making.
To dispel these myths, not only does the academic community need to continue working hard to advance new research, but it also requires each of us to truly understand our brains. Instead of easily finding a so-called “scientific” reason for some of your own performances.