Thursday 10 November 2011

Brain Myths

Fascinating programme on the brain on Radio 4 yesterday afternoon - Mind Myths, still available on iplayer - busting popular myths about the brain.  Perhaps the most notable is the canard that we only use 10% of our brains, leaving the rest dormant (and of course full of potential for scammers selling techniques to activate or access it).  Dale Carnegie was, apparently, the first to put the 10% myth into print in his hugely influential How to win friends and influence people.    However, brain scanning demonstrates the fallacy of this myth; and is somewhat humbling in revealing that motor action tends to require more of our brain than high level thinking...

The style is somewhat irritating, with regular jingles put in, presumably on the assumption that our attention span is only 20 seconds (another myth, in my view...) but when the experts are allowed to speak, it is really interesting; not least in exploring the origins of some of these myths, and the degree to which they have some basis in reality.

The bit I found least convincing was the debunking of the left brain/right brain issue.  It seems to me, listening to the evidence, that there are significant differences between the different hemispheres (left brain is sensitive to language, right brain to melody, for example).  I thought that to some extent they set up a straw man by taking the most simplistic and exaggerated left brain/right brain ideas to attack.  Certainly the work on creative thinking that I have studied and which I work with all stresses the fact that it is the whole brain working effectively that is likely to be most creative; and further that talk of left brain as processing logic and right brain as dealing with relationship is a metaphor - but one based on the neuroscience.

Well worth a listen, though...

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