You Use All of Your Brain: Debunking the 10% Brain Myth

The new sci-fi thriller "Lucy", written by Luc Besson and starring Scarlett Johansson, has rekindled the popular notion that humans only use a small portion of their available brain power. 

What's the Latest?


The new sci-fi thriller "Lucy", written by Luc Besson and starring Scarlett Johansson, has rekindled the popular notion that humans only use a small portion of their available brain power. In the film, that portion is a meager 10%. So when Johansson's character awakens the remaining 90%, she begins learning languages in a day, speed reading, and moving objects with her mind. "The myth's durability, says neurologist Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, stems from people's conceptions about their own brains: they see their own shortcomings as evidence of the existence of untapped gray matter. This is a false assumption."

What's the Big Idea?

Just as we use specific muscles to accomplish specific tasks, the brain is divided into regions that have different capabilities, from regulating motor skills to storing memories. Over the the course of the day, we typically use 100% of our brain, just as we would use all our muscles. "Even in sleep, areas such as the frontal cortex, which controls things like higher level thinking and self-awareness, or the somatosensory areas, which help people sense their surroundings, are active." Consciousness, however, remains somewhat mysterious in the sense that scientists have not located it's specific region. "Ultimately, it's not that we use 10 percent of our brains, merely that we only understand about 10 percent of how it functions."

Read more at Scientific American

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • There are 2 different approaches to governing free speech on college campuses.
  • One is a morality/order approach. The other is a bottom-up approach.
  • Emily Chamlee-Wright says there are many benefits to having no one central authority on what is appropriate speech.

Is there an optimal time of day to exercise?

Two new studies say yes. Unfortunately, each claims a different time.

Bronx, N.Y.: NYPD officer Julissa Camacho works out at the 44th precinct gym in the Bronx, New York on April 3, 2019. (Photo by Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday via Getty Images)
Surprising Science
  • Research at the Weizmann Institute of Sciences declares evening to be the best time for an exercise session.
  • Not so fast, says a new study at UC Irvine, which replies that late morning is the optimal workout time.
  • Both studies involved mice on treadmills and measured different markers to produce their results.
Keep reading Show less
Big Think Edge
  • Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett breaks down what qualities will inspire others to believe in you.
  • Here's how 300 leaders and 4,000 mid-level managers described someone with executive presence.
  • Get more deep insights like these to power your career forward. Join Big Think Edge.