Sunday, April 14, 2013

Neuromania, Neuromyths and Neuroscience

By EKTA from
In the early 1990's a new neuro-imaging technique called "positron emission tomography" (PET) utilizing radioactive tracers was used  to study what areas of the brain were activated for various speech/cognitive exercises. These studies, however seemed to report conflicting data or data that could not be accurately replicated.

A few years later, PET was replaced with a more flexible technique of functional magnetic resonance (fMRI), allowing scientists to study people's brains without the risk of using radioactive tracers. Subsequent studies produced more standardized methods of analyzing brain activity, yielding more consistent results.

And, as a result neuroscience went public... 'everyone' was interpreting and these studies, publishing books on brain activity and how we think.  As a result educators, neuro-scientists, physicians and others began to question the authenticity such publications. Alissa Quart in a blunt New York Times op-ed (November 23, 2012) spoke out applauding "neurodoubters" who like neuroscience but don't like "what her or she considers its bastardization by glib, sometimes ill-informed popularizers." According to Quart:

Such journalism, these critics contend, is... nothing more than "simplified pop."...As a journalist and cultural critic, I applaud the backlash against what is sometimes called brain pron, which raises important questions about this reductionist, sloppy thinking and our willingness to accept seemingly neuroscientific explanations for, well, nearly everything.
A team of British scientists recently analyzed nearly 3,000 neuroscientific articles published in the British press between 2000 and 2010 and found that the media
regularly distorts and embellishes the findings of scientific studies...The problem isn’t solely that self-appointed scientists often jump to faulty conclusions about neuroscience. It’s also that they are part of a larger cultural tendency, in which neuroscientific explanations eclipse historical, political, economic, literary and journalistic interpretations of experience.
This "neuro-porn" is fueled, in part, by most of us who just want to 'understand' our minds: how we think, how we learn, why we do things the way we do them, and/or why some things seem easy to us and other things seem so challenging.
The Growing Brain - Interactive Graphic - | Mind, Brain, and Teaching |

Part of the problem with neuroscience, according to Gary Marcus in a New Yorker online article Neuroscience Fiction (December 2, 2012) is that,
"...a lot of those reports are based on a false premise: that neural tissue that lights up most in the brain is the only tissue involved in some cognitive function...Most of the interesting things that the brain does involve many different pieces of tissue working together...we may need new methods, like optogenetics or automated, robotically guided tools for studying individual neurons...The real problem with neuroscience today isn’t with the science—though plenty of methodological challenges still remain—it’s with the expectations. The brain is an incredibly complex ensemble, with billions of neurons coming into—and out of—play at any given moment. 
In an engaging post by Sharpbrains, Do You Believe these Neuromyths, 32 "brain-related" statements are posted based on a study by Sanne Dekker, Nikki Lee, Paul Howard-Jones and Jelle Jolle Neu­romyths in edu­ca­tion: Preva­lence and pre­dic­tors of mis­con­cep­tions among teach­ers (Frontiers in Educational Psychology, 18, October 2012) along with how well educators distinguished myth from fact.

Here are a sample of Dekker "brain-related" statements (along with a few others taken from other sources listed below in the "read more' section).  How informed are you?


Myth or Fact:   
  1. We use our brains 24 h a day.
  2. Chil­dren must acquire their native lan­guage before a sec­ond lan­guage is learned. If they do not do so nei­ther lan­guage will be fully acquired.
  3. It has been sci­en­tif­i­cally proven that fatty acid sup­ple­ments (omega-3 and omega-6) have a pos­i­tive effect on aca­d­e­mic achieve­ment.
  4. When a brain region is dam­aged other parts of the brain can take up its func­tion.
  5. We only use 10% of our brain.
  6. The left and right hemi­sphere of the brain always work together.
  7. Dif­fer­ences in hemi­spheric dom­i­nance (left brain, right brain) can help explain indi­vid­ual dif­fer­ences amongst learn­ers.
  8. The brains of boys and girls develop at the same rate.
  9. Brain devel­op­ment has fin­ished by the time chil­dren reach sec­ondary school.
  10. Infor­ma­tion is stored in the brain in a net­work of cells dis­trib­uted through­out the brain.
  11. Learn­ing is not due to the addi­tion of new cells to the brain.
  12. Indi­vid­u­als learn bet­ter when they receive infor­ma­tion in their pre­ferred learn­ing style (e.g., audi­tory, visual, kinesthetic).
  13. Learn­ing occurs through mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the brains’ neural con­nec­tions.
  14. Nor­mal devel­op­ment of the human brain involves the birth and death of brain cells.
  15. Men­tal capac­ity is hered­i­tary and can­not be changed by the envi­ron­ment or expe­ri­ence.
  16. Vig­or­ous exer­cise can improve men­tal func­tion.
  17. Envi­ron­ments that are rich in stim­u­lus improve the brains of preschool chil­dren.
  18. Cir­ca­dian rhythms (“body-clock”) shift dur­ing ado­les­cence, caus­ing pupils to be tired dur­ing the first lessons of the school day.
  19. Reg­u­lar drink­ing of caf­feinated drinks reduces alert­ness.
  20. Extended rehearsal of some men­tal processes can change the shape and struc­ture of some parts of the brain.
  21. Indi­vid­ual learn­ers show pref­er­ences for the mode in which they receive infor­ma­tion (e.g., visual, audi­tory, kines­thetic).
  22. Learn­ing prob­lems asso­ci­ated with devel­op­men­tal dif­fer­ences in brain func­tion can­not be reme­di­ated by edu­ca­tion.
  23. Pro­duc­tion of new con­nec­tions in the brain can con­tinue into old age.
  24. There are sen­si­tive peri­ods in child­hood when it’s eas­ier to learn things.
  25. Left-handed people are organized, right-brained people are creative.
Want to see how teach­ers in the UK and Nether­lands per­formed? Click HERE

Here are the answers to Myth (I- Incorrect) or Fact (C- Correct):
1 (C), 2 (I), 3 (I), 4 (C), 5 (I), 6 (C), 7(I), 8 (I), 9 (I), 10 (C), 11 (C), 12 (I), 13 (C), 14 (C), 15 (I), 16 (C), 17 (I), 18 (C), 19 (C), 20 (C), 21 (C), 22 (I), 23 (C), 24 (C), 25 (I),

In short, we all have be careful about what we read. This is more true now with access (via the Internet) to vasts amounts of information from so many unknown or unfamiliar sources. When reading about neuropsychology, look at the source and evaluate the research, the science, and experimental design behind the statements you're reading. And when in doubt, ask your physician.

For more on this please read:

Thank you for your time and visit.  
Please share your 'brain-related statement' awareness, your reactions and impressions or your questions in the "Comments" below.


  1. My, there's a lot of NOISE about what the human body, specifically here the mind - does. News reports tend to obfuscate rather than clarify.

  2. Wow! I took your quiz and did NOT do well...but went back and double-checked the questions and I can see the logic. Good quiz - made me rethink some things. The brain is a mysterious organ!

    abcw team

    1. I agree with Leslie that the brain is a mysterious organ. I am worried about the fact that
      I cannot help forgetting names. It's so annoying! Good post, Meryl, but difficult! Thank you!
      I will try to find a photo of pademelons!
      Wil, ABCW Team.

  3. Interesting post. I have a lot of experience with PET scans because I have to get full body PET for cancer follow up although I've gone so long without a recurrence that I've stopped getting them very much. Although I've also had MRI and CAT scans since all my scanning relates to cancer I wasn't as familiar with the purposes you were discussing scans being used for. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  4. "Extended rehearsal of some men­tal processes can change the shape and struc­ture of some parts of the brain". A good explanation as to why meditation can be beneficial.

  5. As a researcher and lover of science, this is a wonderful N post! So interesting to see the answers to the quiz - the brain is fascinating.

  6. Hi Meryl, me again! I added a photo of a pademelon to my post about Stanley Tasmania.

  7. What perfect timing! We just spent the morning at the Neuropsych office trying to understand how one of our children learns. The brain really is fascinating. Thanks for the great information.

  8. VERY interesting! Thank you so much for posting this!

  9. Great info. Happy WW.

    I played too. Mine are here and here.

  10. Those Bored Panda photos you found are amazing! I've always enjoyed optical illusions, though I admit I always struggle a bit with that old hag/young woman one! (Wonder what the brain is up to there:) Great O.