There’s a common misconception that as humans we currently use just 10% of our brain’s capacity, with over 65% of Americans believing that this is true. So how did this myth originate and does it have any truth to it?
Did the myth come from the self-help industry?
Sam Wang, a neuroscientist at Princeton believes that that it may have arisen from the self-help industry, with William James, one of the most significant 20th century psychologists asserting that humans have latent mental potential. While this was a totally reasonable assumption, the magic figure of 10% was not directly attributable to him, but to the 1936 publication ‘How To Win Friends and Influence People’, in which the author of the foreword, Lowell Thomas, reported Professor James as saying that an average person only develops 10% of his potential mental ability.
Our brains are constantly active
However, this notion can be proved false on a number of levels particularly as, being made up of living neurons, the whole of the brain is continually active, albeit certain areas do show more activity than others. In fact, the whole idea that we only use a certain proportion of our brain’s capacity is misguided at best. While certain regions are specialists in certain tasks, for example the region that helps you to see, or the region that directs your movements, they all work in conjunction with each other, making the brain a constantly multi-tasking network.
The potential to be superman … or woman
Of course, it’s easy to understand why this myth persists. Just think, if we’re currently only using a tenth of our brain’s potential, imagine how amazing our lives would be if we could just use 10% more. Just think how much better, faster and more articulate we would be if we could use 50% or 60%!
Neuroscience is still a relatively new science, and unlike physics, it doesn’t have a foundation of established formal laws to build upon. This may be one of the reasons why myths such as these continue to persist. However it’s going to take years of research to enable neuroscientists to develop their own bank of established laws, before such myths can be superseded by fact.