Ed Neuroscience

Popular education myths every parent should know - 1

Do you believe that children or, for that matter, their education should have either a right or left-brained approach? Or that we only use 10% of our brains? Are these euphemisms true, or are they myths? And how do they stand up against scientific evidence?

In this article, we will bust some of the most common learning myths by taking into account recent scientific advances in the field of learning.

Myth 1: We are either right or left-brained

There is a popular notion out there that we are either “left brained” or “right brained,” corresponding to being either logical if left brained or more creative if right brained.

Although it is true that different regions of the brain are associated with specific functions, such as language processing in the left hemisphere and spatial awareness in the right hemisphere, the idea that one side of the brain is responsible for certain traits or that one side is dominant has been debunked by science.

Studies using imaging techniques like fMRI have shown that both hemispheres of the brain are active during a wide variety of tasks. And, the different regions of the brain work together in a highly interconnected network or “hubs.”

In addition, when scientists had a group of more than 1,000 people undergo tasks while under brain scans, they found no evidence that one side of the brain was more dominant while performing tasks. This suggests that we don’t have one side of the brain that is more dominant than the other, but rather the brain works as a cohesive unit at any given time.

Additionally, many psychological traits, such as creativity and intuition, are thought to be influenced by both hemispheres, rather than just one.

It's also important to note that the idea of left-brain or right-brain dominance is not just a myth, but a harmful one as it can lead to stereotypes and limitations for individuals. For example, if people believe that if someone is left-brained they are less creative or artistic.

Tips for parents and educators:

  • Avoid talking about certain activities or traits as belonging to one part of the brain. For instance, if a child shows very creative abilities, refrain from associating those talents to being “right-brained.”
  • Encourage a wide range of activities and experiences that engage both hemispheres of the brain, such as puzzles, music, and art.
  • Help children understand that they can be good at both creative activities like arts and crafts, and more logic-based activities like problem-solving.
  • Encourage strategies that promote both more creative and problem-solving pursuits.

Myth 2: We only use 10% of our brain

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that we only use 10% of our brains, but this is a huge myth.

Studies using imaging techniques have shown that the brain is active and working even during periods of rest. During resting state, different brain are active during different tasks. In many ways, the brain is never “quiet,” but has constant intrinsic activity even when it is not engaged in a focused task. If we only used 10% of our brains, we would not see such widespread coordinated neural activity during rest.

For example, several studies have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans to measure brain activity. They found that the brain is active across the entire cerebral cortex, and that different regions of the brain are activated depending on the task at hand. This suggests that we use much more than just 10% of our brain, and that every part of the brain plays a role in our cognitive abilities.

Additionally, damage to even small regions of the brain can result in significant functional deficits, indicating that every part of the brain is important and plays a role in our cognitive abilities.

For instance, individuals with disorders such as schizophrenia exhibit functional dysconnectivity in certain brain regions. If we only used a small portion of our brain, we would not see such a wide-scale deficit if only a small part was impaired.

Tips for parents and educators:

  • Encourage children to challenge themselves and to try new things, as this can help to develop and strengthen different regions of the brain.
  • Emphasize the importance of regular exercise, good nutrition, and a healthy sleep routine, which can all contribute to overall brain health.
  • Help children understand that all parts of their brain are engaged when they are doing something.

Myth 3: Intelligence is fixed

The belief that intelligence is fixed is also not supported by scientific evidence. While genetics certainly play a role in intelligence, it is not the only factor that determines an individual's cognitive abilities.

Studies have shown that intelligence can be shaped and influenced by a wide variety of factors, including a person's environment, education, and experiences. Additionally, the concept of intelligence is multi-faceted, and includes cognitive abilities such as problem-solving, memory, and creativity.

For example, a study published in Nature found that the relationship between genetics and intelligence is complex, and that genetics account for about 50% of the variation in intelligence. However, this still leaves a significant portion of the variation in intelligence that is influenced by environmental factors, such as education, socioeconomic status, and individual differences such as motivation levels and personality traits.

Additionally, research shows that intelligence is not fixed but can be improved by developing new skills and learning new information. For example, many studies have shown that training certain aspects of memory carries over to new cognitive tasks and routines.

In addition, other studies have found that adults who engaged in mentally stimulating activities, such as reading or playing games, had better cognitive function than those who did not.

These studies suggest that there is a lot we can do to improve our intelligence.

Tips for parents and educators:

  • Emphasize the importance of effort and practice in developing cognitive abilities. This will help children understand that if they work on something, they will improve (i.e., that it is not “given” to them).
  • Provide children with a wide range of learning opportunities and experiences, and encourage them to take on challenges and to set goals for themselves.
  • Avoid making comparisons between children and using labels such as "you’re born with it" or "you’re a natural," as this can create limiting beliefs and discourage children from putting in effort to improve their cognitive abilities.
  • Encourage children to do tasks such as puzzles or problem-solving, which can help “train” the brain.

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