5 Neuromyths About the Brain
Dr. Caroline Leaf
Sep 28, 2019
You are a complex, dynamic being whose ability to think is a veritable universe, not a singular style. We should not approach learning with the preconception that there is "thinking inside the box" learning and "thinking outside the box" learning.
In recent years, neuroscience has become very popular. It is almost as though adding the prefix "neuro," as in neuro-education, neuro-leadership, neuro-spirituality and so on, gives the method, course, program, or book more clout, thereby increasing its credibility.
With so many articles on how the brain works, and so many programs promising to boost brain function, it can be confusing to know just what to believe when it comes to thinking and learning. Because we are only just beginning to understand how the brain works, and the mind-brain connection, we need to be very careful when it comes to believing everything that we hear, especially since "neuromyths" have a way of sticking around long after science disproves them!
What are "neuromyths" specifically? These myths are common and damaging misconceptions about the nature of the brain, which shape our understanding of learning, education, work, science, and life, which, in turn, influences what we believe about our own abilities to succeed in life!
Unfortunately, a number of these myths are prevalent among the general public, educators, and even neuroscientists! In fact, some of the main myths I encountered during my studies, research and clinical practice, are still around today.
What Are These Neuromyths, and Why Should You Be Wary When You Hear or Read About them?
• "The Left-Right Brain" Neuromyth: You are not a "left-brain thinker" or a "right-brain thinker". Effective thinking involves both the right and left brain working in a synergistic way. The right brain processes information from our minds from the big picture to the detail, while the left-brain processes information from our minds from the detail to the big picture. Everything we do, from eating to talking to reading to thinking, and so on, requires the parallel processing of the left side of the brain's design to process from detail to the big picture, and the right-side design to process big picture to detail. The two sides, together, give the wholemeaning. The mind works through the whole brain; and the whole brain in turn respond to the mind in a very coordinated way. It is therefore incorrect to say the left brain is logical and that the right brain is creative—this is scientifically impossible.
• "The Learning Styles" Neuromyth: Many individuals believe that they learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style. This is often why people describe themselves as "visual" or "auditory" learners, because that is what they are aware of—but this is not what is really happening. These kinds of statements and beliefs are reductionistic; it is impossible to just use one mode of thought as you learn and build memory because a thought passes through different parts of the brain as it forms, much like how food is digested through the different parts of the digestive system. You are a complex, dynamic being whose ability to think is a veritable universe, not a singular style. We should not approach learning with the preconception that there is "thinking inside the box" learning and "thinking outside the box" learning. As the "gangsta gardener" Ron Finley says, when it comes to the human imagination there isn’t a box to begin with. Research has actually shown that we limit our learning when learning styles theory is used. For example, many neuromyths mistakenly imply that a single factor is responsible for a given outcome when learning. However, what these approaches reflect is a gross underestimation of the complexity of human behavior, especially the cognitive and metacognitive skills of attention, reasoning, memory, and learning—which drive the processes of life.
• "The Memory" Neuromyth: Memory is not only the heart of learning, but it is also indispensable in every area of life. But what is memory? How how can we use it to the best of our abilities? "Improve your memory!" "Increase your memory capacity!" "How to Get an Exceptional Memory Fast!" are typical examples of a number of advertising slogans for apps, books, pills, and programs. Memory, however, is complex, and not fully understood. All we know for certain is that memory-building requires intensive focus and understanding. Long-term memory and habit formation takes time and hard work to develop—there is no quick fix or simple solution when it comes to building memory. Unfortunately, commercial, computer-based memory training programs and games which claim to benefit those suffering from purported ADHD, dyslexia, language disorders, poor academic performance, the dementias, mental ill-health, and many other issues fall short of the mark. Research shows that the short-term memory and sensory skills developed in these so-called "brain games" do not necessarily develop deep thinking, meaningful cognitive skills that change behavior in ways that lead to success. These games do not improve the kind of intelligence that helps people intellectualize, reason, solve problems, and make wise choices. In contrast, mental training via deep thinking and understanding to build memory and learn—as I put forward in my techniques in my books and programs—increases the numbers of neurons that survive, particularly when the training goals are challenging. This survival of neurons with their dendrites (where memory is actually stored) means long-term useful and meaningful memories are formed.
• "The Rote Memorization" Neuromyth: We are not designed to remember everything and anything! In fact, we only really need to remember the "meat" of what we are learning, which usually amounts to 20-30 % of the information. It is important that we remember that we are designed to remember what we needto succeed—if we try to learn every word and sentence we will exhaust ourselves and find it difficult to build useful memories. In fact, learning the "meat" requires more comprehension and deep, focused understanding—it is a lot easier to regurgitate information without even thinking! We need to learn what to learn and howto learn!
• "Intelligence is Predetermined" Neuromyth: Intelligence is not fixed or static. We are not a measurement of intelligence. Intelligence is dynamic and malleable—we are actually as intelligent as we want to be! The truth is that the more we think deeply about what we are reading and learning, the more intelligent we become! Intelligence is directly related to how we build memory, which can change, develop and grow!
For more information on neuromyths and the mind, see my book Think, Learn and Succeed!
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