For some reason, Hollywood writers and purveyors of pseudoscience really love to say humans only use 10% of their brains. Why? Well, because it opens the door to making us think there’s a wealth of unlocked potential if only we could [insert Hollywood storyline] or buy some junk supplement to unlock the rest.
But it’s just not true. What an evolutionary waste that would be if it had any basis in fact!
Myth becomes “fact”
According to Britannica (and many, many scientific sources and fact-checking websites): “It’s one of Hollywood’s favorite bits of pseudoscience: human beings use only 10 percent of their brain, and awakening the remaining 90 percent—supposedly dormant—allows otherwise ordinary human beings to display extraordinary mental abilities. In Phenomenon (1996), John Travolta gains the ability to predict earthquakes and instantly learns foreign languages. Scarlett Johansson becomes a superpowered martial-arts master in Lucy (2014). And in Limitless (2011) Bradley Cooper writes a novel overnight.”
We don’t blame Hollywood – they make stuff up to sell movies all the time. It’s the fact that we started believing the plots of films that’s truly disturbing. In fact, Britannica reports that “65 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, ‘People only use 10 percent of their brain on a daily basis.'”
Why do we believe we only use 10% of our brains?
Let’s not look to place blame on anyone but ourselves. Most of us repeat interesting things we hear without ever investigating whether or not they’re true.
But next time you hear someone spout off this garbage “fun fact,” you can hit back with some actual science.
- If only 10% of our brains were functional, why does nearly every brain injury affect our lives in some way? If we only used 10%, we could damage the rest with no repercussions.
- Why would humans have evolved our most unique characteristic – the very thing that makes us human – to be 90% useless? It makes no evolutionary sense. That space could be used for more useful things if it were just empty grey matter.
- Positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans show that there is activity in far more than 10% of our brain. In fact, there is no part of the brain that lacks some sort of electrical activity (even if we don’t yet know precisely what it does).
The origins of the 10% myth
So, the 10% myth is just complete bull. But It likely has its origins in the American self-help industry.
People like to blame 19th-century psychologist William James (or even Albert Einstein) for implying that there is unlocked potential in the human brain. And while they may be true, that doesn’t indicate inactive brain matter. It just means we could think harder if we really tried.
Britannica also states that one early claim that the self-help industry glommed onto appeared in the preface to Dale Carnegie’s 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Since then, “The idea that we have harnessed only a fraction of our brain’s full potential has been a staple for motivational gurus, New Age hucksters, and uninspired screenwriters ever since.”
But it’s a load of bologna. – WTF fun facts