Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Psychology Pet Peeve: "We Only Use 10% of Our Brains"

Do you ever remember being told that we only use 10% of our brains, and if we could only figure out how to use the 100% we'd be geniuses, and possibly psychic as well? Considering this concept (or parts of it) has been attributed to people such as Albert Einstein, I can see why it would be believed.

I thought it was one of those things that most people knew by now to not be true, so imagine my surprise when last year the movie Limitless came out, with the premise that you could take a pill to make you use 100% of your brain. To be fair, I haven't actually seen this movie, but hearing about it in the ads made my blood boil so I thought it best to avoid (Bradley Cooper, we're still cool though).

The truth is however, unless you've had some sort of brain damage - you use all of your brain! If you were using 10% only - which part are you using while the rest is switched off? If you think about even some of the things the brain is doing simultaneously - controlling your senses, accessing memories and thinking about the future, planning and executing movements including speaking and walking, regulating hormones, and oh yeh, making sure you keep breathing - well I'd be a bit concerned if my brain was only working 10%! Also, our brains take up a major chunk of our energy resources: up to 20%! If only 10% of it's working, that's a bit of an energy waste and could be considerably smaller in that case.

Like our friend Homer here! [via]
Now please don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you're an idiot or making fun of you if you did believe this previously - to be honest, I kind of thought it might be true until the first week of my Psych courses where they specifically mentioned this is a myth. My pet peeve is more to do with poorly researched articles and movies perpetuating this sort of thing. It also seems to be a particular pet peeve of this guy, who actually wants you to contact him if you find someone stating this so he can correct (yell at?) them.

Ok gripe over!

Question for you:
- Do you have any pet peeves (doesn't have to be psychology-related, though if it is I'm sure I'll commiserate with you)? Feel free to share in the comments.

P.S. Albert Einstein in fact never said that.
P.P.S. To pester me, sometimes Husband says things like: "Oh I guess I forgot to do the washing up, because I only use 10% of my brain" aargh!


  1. I feel like your hubby saying things about only using 10% of his brain to annoy you is equivalent to Office Boy purposely making grammar/spelling mistakes because he knows that's my pet peeve. It's a good thing I haven't told him my biggest pet peeve is misusing your/you're yet...

  2. You know my biggest gripe about psychology? Every time I tell someone that I've studied psychology and counseling they inevitably say, "Oh hey, so you can fix me/my wife/my kids/my dog!" No sir, I can't. First of all, that would be a dual relationship. Secondly, your joke sucks.

    I stay away from the neurobiology aspect, so this is only a guess. Do we use 100% of our brains, but only 10% at any given time? If so, then I could understand the rationale for the myth.


    1. As far as I can tell, we may not use 100% at any given time, and in very certain circumstances (e.g. resting but not dreaming) we may only use 10%. However I think most of the time more is being used.

      And I've heard that one too - "Oh so I should tell you about my problems then!". Well firstly way to misunderstand what a PhD is about (research), and secondly no thanks. Do you ever get this one too: "You do psychology? You must know what I'm thinking right now then?" *rolls eyes*.

  3. YES. This. This drives me crazy!! I couldn't see this movie because the premise of "10% of your brain blah blah blah" pissed me off so much! I heard it was good too...don't know if I can get over my science snobbery though, haha.

    Other sciencey pet peeves: humans co-existing with dinosaurs, penguins and polar bears, correlation vs causation.... etc

  4. Haha, myth debunked. Good to know! Honestly, I believed this when I was a kid but haven't thought about it that much since. Though everything you say makes perfect sense. :)

  5. hazaah, a debunked myth without ugly men!
    I get annoyed with incorrect science on the tv, especially microbiology stuff. That's why I was so impressed by the new movie "Contagion" - they actually consulted with CDC about the script etc. Very scary movie.

    1. Ooh I might have to check that one out then! :)

  6. My husband is like this about diseases and diagnostics. He hates badly researched articles. Also, the media doesn't help with the way it portrays science and messes with statistics and so on... argh!!!
    I have many more of my own pet peeves, too many really, so I won't bore you with them ;)

  7. Oh dear. This 10% stuff must be annoying - it irritates me, but to a different degree.

    Reading this made me think of koalas and their relative stupidity as their brains have evolved to be as small as possible to minimise what it manages (no wonder they sit around sleeping all day) and how much fuel it requires! I haven't seen Limitless, but did Bradley Cooper need to eat a lot more to feed all that brain activity? Or did he whither away into nothingness? (I'm all more science fiction, with or without silly premises, but you have to go ALL THE WAY).

  8. Hmm. I don't know what my pet peeves are. I know that I absolutely cannot stand it when the sponge is left in the sink. Oh! Actually, I do know. I'm vegan. People ask me if I eat chicken or fish, ALL THE TIME. I don't blame them, I blame the peskytarians who don't just say they're peskyterians, and tell people they're vegetarians instead. They're confusing the world.

    Your husband is hilarious. :)


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