5 MYTHS ABOUT THE BRAIN...
... and some truths that might surprise you
Whenever I’m out and about, I often get asked about the brain. Whether I am at a party or on a shoot - I get people asking me if something they heard from a friend is true or not. I actually find it quite fun dispelling rumours that people have. I have put together a list of my favourites- that I thought would be interesting to share with everyone. Let me know if you have any myths you want answered!
MYTH #1: WE ONLY USE 10% OF OUR BRAIN
This one I hear all the time. In fact, I can flat out say that this one isn’t true! Our brain is actually always working- and most of it is engaged constantly. This myth was based on the old Victorian practice of Phrenology. Phrenology was an (incorrect) way for Victorian ‘scientists’ to understand people’s feelings and emotions based on locations in their brains. Certain areas of the brain controlled certain aspects of personality, if you had a larger region, you were thought to be more dominant in a specific trait. The Victorians believed only a small portion of our brain was engaged at any point, thus allowing personality traits to shine through. For example, the area of the frontal lobe was used solely for reflecting on society, and more conscientious people had larger frontal cortices… Now we know that our brain is an organ that is made up of different regions that constantly work together. We have different functions in specific areas, for example your occipital cortex (right at the back) deals almost exclusively with vision, but ALWAYS activates MULTIPLE areas at once. That’s why when we see something, it can make us feel happy or sad, or elicit memories… interconnectedness.
MYTH #2: YOU CAN BE LEFT OR RIGHT 'BRAINED'
This one actually was based in some ‘truth’. Your brain is split into two hemispheres, left and right. The myth was that parts of our personality was split, having more analytical aspects on the left side and your right brain is more creative and free thinking. People believed that if they were artier or more analytical, that particular hemisphere was your ‘dominant’ hemisphere. In reality, your hemispheres are almost identical, and we know that your personality is not based in one hemisphere. In fact, we have no idea what makes a personality… But where this myth may stem from is the fact that on the left side of our brain are two regions (Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area) that are involved exclusively in the control of language that don’t exist on the right side. When people suffered damage to the left side of the brains, they often lost the power to speak properly- and were thought to be less analytical. Thus, this fact may have given birth to the left brain-right brain myth.
MYTH #3: SMARTER PEOPLE'S BRAINS ARE 'BIGGER'
With regards to most things- people often think bigger=better. With respect to our brains, this myth is partially true… Our brains have evolved through millions of years, from simple mammalian brains that smaller mammals tend to have, to our brains which are definitely bigger. But what makes us smarter is that the overall surface area of the brain has grown- not only the size. Our brain goes about this by having loads of folds in the surface, making grooves and valleys. This helps increase your surface area and thus more computing power for our brains. When we compare our brains to similar sized mammals, the difference is usually the number of grooves and crests However, when someone is ‘smarter’ whatever that means, they’re brains aren’t more grooved or bigger at all! What we do see are people with better, more efficient connected areas. The regions in our brains are CONSTANTLY talking to each other, and it looks like some people have better connections, thus making them ‘smarter’.
MYTH #4: DRINKING ALCOHOL KILLS BRAIN CELLS
Here’s one that I am very happy is a myth- alcohol has not been shown to kill brain cells! In fact, a small amount of alcohol in some cases has been shown to have beneficial effects through relaxation of arteries, relaxation and through the communal aspect of seeing friends. However, chronic drinking and alcoholism are VERY bad, not just for your liver, and body- but also for your brain. Even though alcohol doesn’t kill cells in the short term, it does manage to hurt cells, and possibly kill them in chronic drinking. Chronic drinking or heavy alcohol use can cause destruction of specific areas of the brain and can be a factor in individuals developing dementia. Studies have shown that the hippocampus, the area used for encoding memories, is heavily affected in those who abuse alcohol. The only problem is- we don’t know how chronic alcohol use translates into brain regions being affected. Some people believe it has something to do with our immune system.
MYTH #5: MEN AND WOMEN'S BRAINS ARE VASTLY DIFFERENT
Ah, the good ol’ men versus women debate. The human brain is slightly different for each person- but not massively. Some have regions of different sizes, or connections that make us faster at certain tasks- but ultimately- when you look at a brain by itself – you can’t tell if it came from a man or woman, or for that matter, you can’t tell race, religion or for the most part- many illnesses. There are however, SLIGHT differences in structures between men and women- but these are very tiny- and we need more research to confirm these findings. For example, men are known to have bigger amygdalae, the area that deals primarily with fear and emotion. Whilst women’s hemispheres are known to have more connections, which may explain why women are better at language better connected. However, the differences are often negligible and are often contested.