Do we only use 10% of our brain?

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Emily Samson

The human brain is complex. Despite advances in neuroscience and brain imaging, much of how the brain functions remains a mystery. This vast uncertainty may be one reason many misconceptions about how the brain works persist in popular culture. For example, one common myth is that humans only use 10% of our brains.     

The origins of this myth can be traced back to the early 1900s. Psychologist and philosopher, William James, wrote a book in 1908 in which he claimed that humans only use a small part of our mental resources. This theory was backed up only by observation and anecdotes, without any scientific evidence to support the claim. However, the idea that humans have untapped brain potential was popularized and has become the topic of many motivational speeches, self-help books, and Hollywood movies.

However, using a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), scientists and doctors can see which parts of the brain are activated during different tasks. The fMRI scans show that even during simple and routine tasks like talking, walking, or listening to music, people use almost every region of their brain.

In addition to conscious tasks, the brain is responsible for performing many functions that you might not be aware of, such as coordinating movement and balance, regulating your body temperature, and making sure your organs are functioning. So even when you think you are doing nothing, you are using far more than 10% of your brain to control things like your heart rate or breathing. In fact, in a 24-hour period, you have likely activated every region of your brain.  

While it’s exciting to think that we could tap into unused portions of our brain to expand our intelligence or creativity, we have no evidence to think that there are any unused portions. On the bright side, our brains are working harder than we might think to keep us functioning!

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