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Medical Myths: We only use 10% of our brains

Medical Myths: We only use 10% of our brains

Know your medical facts from myths? There are a lot of old wives' tales out there. But where do they come from and what's the truth? This week, do we really only use 10% of our brains?

What's the truth?

This is, to put it bluntly, rubbish.

Scans of the brain show there are no parts that are inactive or unused, and detailed probing has failed to identify the "non-functioning" 90 per cent. Studies of people with brain injuries reveal that damage to almost any area of it results in some loss of function.

Even when we're sleeping, the brain is a hive of activity.

medical myth: 10% of the Brain
Illustration by David Humphries


Where did the myth come from?

It's been attributed to Albert Einstein, but there's no record of him actually saying it.

Either way, though, it dates back at least 100 years—to when neuroscience was in its infancy and there was no way of accurately looking at the brain or its functioning.


Why has it been so persistent?

Nobody knows for sure. With advances in science we've understood for quite a while that every area of the brain has a very specific, and very important, role.

It seems likely that the ten-per-cent myth has been perpetuated because it feeds into the popular—and, let's face it, attractive—idea that if we only could harness the brain's power, we could all achieve amazing things.