Are We Really Using Just 10% Of Our Brain?

By Medically reviewed by Panel Perubatan Hello Doktor

The notion that we only use 10% of our brain has been proliferated relentlessly by motivational speakers, your multi-level-marketing guru, tabloids and even in movies, most notoriously through the 2014 blockbuster, Lucy. As the argument goes, if we are able to unlock and access the other 90% of the brain, we would be able to do a lot of amazing things from mental computing, complex calculation to possibly mind-reading. The film Lucy however got really really carried away with the idea by demonstrating god-like abilities in that hidden 90%.

Like most myths, it is unclear where did this 10% myth originated from. Some popular opinion suggested that it probably started in 1890s when American philosopher and psychologist who also happened to be the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States – William James, asserted that we only utilize a fraction of our intellectual potential but did not specified any amount nor percentage of the usage.

William James

By the time an ad in the 1929 World Almanac claimed, “Scientists and psychologists tell us we use about TEN PERCENT of our brain power” (cited in Beyerstein, 1999, p. 11), the number had crept in. Different sources will make different claims about where that number comes from but one thing for sure, it has no basis in science whatsoever.

Here are 3 reasons why the 10% myth is just a myth:

We already use all parts of the brain – How do we know this? Through neuroimaging techniques such as PET scan or MRI and we’ve learned that we used pretty much all parts of the brain and they are activated even when we are doing simple task such as talking, walking or even sleeping. While we don’t use all parts at once, these scans proved that over the course of any given day, we would use all part of the brain eventually. University of Washington’s Center of Neurotechnology Executive Director, Dr. Eric Chudler, asserted flatly that we already use our brains in their entirety. How well we make use of them, well, that’s another story.

Benefit of the doubt – If we were to take that myth as fact, it would stand to reason that we would not even need the other 90% to be alive, implying that we could afford to remove the other 90% (whichever that part maybe) and we would still be fine, right? WRONG. Extend that myth a bit further and we would assume that if we only use 10% of the brain, damage to the other 90% of the brain should not result in any transient or lasting physical or cognitive impairment then. But brain damage, whether it’s from accidents or diseases; whether it affect just the brainstem or the hippocampus or the entire left hemisphere, do result in physical or cognitive impairment as we have learned from watching any medical documentaries, TV shows or if you have relatives with neurological problems and removing 90% of your brain will definitely cause you to be significantly impaired in both aspects.

We have to feed them constantly – That’s right, the brain may just make around 3 to 4% of your body weight but it consumes at least a whopping 20% of your daily energy intake. Hundreds of calories are used just to keep the brain active and regulate involuntary actions therefore it wouldn’t make sense for us, from an evolutionary perspective, to spend so much energy on a wet lump of neurons if only 10% of it is working.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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