Brain Myths: Debunking Common Misconceptions Affecting Education

Brain_MythsDespite the fact that the brain and learning are closely intertwined, neuroscience and classroom teaching are not often discussed together. And while parents and teachers don’t have to be neuroscientists to educate students, knowing how the human brain really functions can help us better understand how students learn and what they are capable of.

According to an article in the New York Times, “How Brain Myths Could Hurt Kids” by Anna North, a number of misconceptions about how the brain works are still often believed to be true, despite scientific research proving otherwise. Below are three such myths that should be “unlearned.”

1. We Use Only 10 Percent of Our Brain

One of the most prevalent brain myths shared by students, educators, and parents is the idea that we use only 10 percent of our brain power. In reality, brain scans show that activity courses through the entire organ even while a person is resting. Despite this, surveys have shown that 48 percent of British teachers, 59 percent of Chinese educators, and 65 percent of respondents in the United States believe the 10 percent myth is true.  So widely held is this belief that even Hollywood has tapped into it, exploring the notion of full brain power in 2011’s Limitless, starring Bradley Cooper, and 2014’s Lucy, featuring Scarlett Johansson, with both protagonists displaying superhero abilities upon unlocking the full potential of their brains. Neuroscience shows that this fallacy has been thoroughly debunked, so it’s time to stop circulating this myth.

2. People Learn Best Via Their Preferred Learning Style

Differentiation is a big buzzword in the world of education. And although acknowledging that students have different strengths and allowing them opportunities to learn in a variety of ways is recommended by educators and applauded by parents, neuroscience actually suggests that this might not be as important as people think. Regardless of whether students’ preferences mark them as visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners, there is no evidence to suggest they benefit from learning in their preferred way; research actually suggests it could be more beneficial for students to receive information in a style they do not prefer. Instead, educators and parents need to take into account students’ interests and motivations, which have proven to have more of an impact on learning than a preferred learning style.

Related: Rethinking Learning Styles

3. Learning Problems Cannot Be Remediated in the Classroom

Particularly significant for educators and parents of students with learning disabilities is the misconception that learning disabilities are genetic and cannot be changed. Believing this can cause adults to set lower standards for, or even give up on, struggling students. Neuroscience shows there are no biologically defined limits on what students can achieve because the brain is malleable and, according to Dr. Paul Howard-Jones, “its function, structure and connectivity changes as a result of education.” This suggests that parents and teachers may be able to help struggling students more than is generally believed.


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Dr. Paul Howard-Jones’s study: Neuromyths in Education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers

Photo Photo Credit: Stuart Manning

Posted in Learning Styles, Learning Disabilities

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