Your Brain: Myth vs. Reality

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So often we seem to get myth and reality mixed up and backwards. When it comes to the human brain, there are plenty of ideas flying around and it can be hard to know what to believe and what to dismiss.

Well, call us the Activation Myth Busters! We thought it would be interesting to get to the bottom of this mess and put a bold face on the blurred lines.

Have a look at our lists below, and find out for yourself what is and isn’t going on in your noggin.

Myths

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Women are Emotional Thinkers and Men are Logical Thinkers

How many times have you heard something like this passed off as fact? Like the classic Men are from Mars Women are from Venus angle. Erin Brodwin from Business Insider, helps to break down the reasoning behind this mythology: “There are minor anatomical differences between male and female brains. Problem is, they haven’t been linked with any particular differences in ability. Instead, most evidence suggests that these gender-based differences are the result of cultural expectations.” Erin goes on to explain that while you might expect women to score better on a test scored on empathy, males who were told in advance that men always score high on this kind of test, performed just as well as women did. This kind of scenario has been repeated with women and a math test with the same results. It seems that we tend to let society tell us what we should be best at and we let our expectations get in the way of our actual abilities.

People are Either Left-Brained or Right-Brained

Although many of us are attracted to this idea, it isn’t based on fact. The concept is quite simple. It goes like this: people who are more logical and excel at science or math are left-brain thinkers. Those with a creative flair who excel in English and the arts are right-brain thinkers. Scientific American explains how this myth got started: “The left brain/right brain notion originated from the realization that many (though not all) people process language more in the left hemisphere and spatial abilities and emotional expression more in the right. Psychologists have used the idea to explain distinctions between different personality types. In education, programs emerged that advocated less reliance on rational “left brain” activities. While this concept has sparked a lot of interest and people obviously want to relate to this idea, brain imagery shows no solid evidence to back it up; the brain actually uses both the left and right sides of the brain for both reading and math.

You Only Use 10% of Your Brain

This myth has been making the rounds for over a century. It would be fascinating to think that we only use a small part of our brains and therefore have a huge untapped reservoir of intellect just waiting to be drawn from. It sounds like something out of a superhero story: Man finds a way to use more of his brain! He can now read minds, move objects with his thoughts and save the world! While that would be incredible, it’s just not how the brain works. Brain scans have proven that we use much more than 10% of our brains on a daily basis. Think about it from an evolutionary standpoint; what would be the point of carrying around 90% more brain than we could use? Damage to a small piece of your brain can result in serious implications for speech, motor function, etc. This is because the various functions of the body are signaled by many different parts of your brain. There are parts of the brain that don’t seem to have a direct use, but which may be protective matter, shielding the active portions. While we definitely use more than 10%, there is nonetheless much we don’t know about our brains.

Brain Damage is Always Permanent

This myth comes from the idea that we’re born with a specific number of brain cells and that once they’re gone, they’re gone. I remember hearing this as a child and worrying every time I hit my head, thinking about the loss of brain cells and how that might affect my smarts. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Our brains have the ability to make new cells and connections. When there is brain damage, our brains can actually re-route functions into healthier areas. Rehabilitation therapy is proof of the brain’s ability to compensate for loss and mend connections.

Our Brains are Hard-Wired

You may have heard the human brain compared to an electrical circuit before, with each area labeled and assigned responsibilities. There is some logic to this idea, but it falls short of the reality. The human brain is very adaptable. When you set yourself to practicing a new hobby, for example, you are training your brain to function in a new way. There are instances where a person who has suffered brain damage will show signs of basic functions being signaled from different parts of the brain to compensate for lost tissue. Fiona MacDonald, at ScienceAlert.com points out that, “The brain is remarkably flexible. A good example of this is that the brain of a blind person can ‘rewire’ part of their brain responsible for sight to improve their hearing. These are all instances that showcase the brain’s ability to adapt, proving that the hard-wired concept falls flat beyond the basic labeling.

Truths

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Your Brain Needs Healthy Fats

Your brain, like the rest of your body, requires specific nutrition to function at its best. Healthy fats, despite all the negative hype around fats, are an essential source of brain nourishment. Wellness Mama points out that: The brain is made up of fats and cholesterol, mainly saturated fat. A diet low in saturated fats deprives the brain of the building blocks in needs for proper repair and function.” So what are healthy fats? The ones you find in wild or naturally-raised meats, coconut oil, perfectly pressed seed oils and butter are a good start. A healthy diet includes some saturated fats and more unsaturated fats. If you’ve been sticking to a strict low-fat diet in an effort to get healthier or lose weight, you may want to reconsider your strategy, it could help you accomplish your fitness goals while benefiting your body as a whole. To discover more about omega fats, check out our recent blog post, here. Your brain’s main fuel is fat, so you’re not doing your gray matter any service by cutting fats out altogether.

You Need AT LEAST 6 Hours of Sleep Every Night

With the insane number of stimulants available to us, from coffee and energy drinks to alarms and smartphones, it’s all too easy to push ourselves to go without the sleep we really need. Adults need at least 6 hours of sleep a night in order to function at their best and 7-9 hours is even better. For one, your brain requires sleep in order to strengthen your memories. When you’re sleeping your brain is busy stabilizing your memories through physical cell connections. If you don’t get enough sleep your ability to store memories will be seriously compromised. Sleep also affects your brain’s ability to maintain focus and clarity of thought. Even fine motor skills and mood can be affected if you’re not sleeping well.

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Reading will Improve Your Brain Power

Children who read and are read to are exposed to as many as 50% more words than those who don’t. According to Abigail Wise at Real Simple, “Exposure to that new vocabulary not only leads to higher score on reading tests, but also higher scores on general tests of intelligence. Plus, stronger early reading skills may mean higher intelligence later in life.”

Reading is one way to improve your vocabulary, certainly, but it also gives your brain a great workout. By getting involved in a book you take in information that your brain processes via memory stabilization, which encourages new brain cells and cell connections and results in higher intelligence and improved memory. Imagine! Just reading this post could be making you smarter.

Some Things are ‘Just Like Riding a Bike’

While it certainly happens that we forget information and experiences, there are certain things that your brain does not just lose. When you learn a new skill, such as reading or riding a bike, your brain doesn’t just create a loose record of the information, it physically changes to accommodate for that skillset. The path that is created when you establish a new ability never really goes away.

What about the details? Lack of use can cause deterioration and the many technological devices we rely on are making the problem bigger. Instead of paying attention to and remembering directions, we use a GPS app. Instead of keeping mental lists, we dictate them to our smartphones. Most of us don’t even remember phone numbers anymore, we depend on our phones to do that for us. But have no fear! Dr. Mercola says “The inherent plasticity of the brain was discovered some 20 years ago, when animal models demonstrated that brain deterioration and aging was in fact reversible, provided the proper stimulus.” What does this mean? If you practice taking in and recalling small details, you can reverse that deterioration and get that brain power back. 

Exercise… It Does Your Brain Good Too

Getting at least half an hour of exercise a day can help to increase your focus and memory, and even encourage the growth of new brain cells. It can also relieve depression. As Annie Daly of Women’s Health reports “Research shows that exercise is so effective at chasing away the blues, it can even help treat major depressive disorder. Get out for a walk, hit the gym or get involved in team sports. For maximum mental benefit, select activities that include both cardio and coordination. The cardio gets more blood to your brain, while the effort involved in coordinating your various body parts gives your brain a workout of its own.

So, there you have it. We’ve made an effort to debunk some myths and shed some light on reality. Now go take a nap so you can remember them later.

Resources

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/5-common-myths-about-the-brain/
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/top-ten-myths-about-the-brain-178357288/?no-ist
http://www.sciencealert.com/these-are-the-top-10-myths-about-the-human-brain
http://www.businessinsider.com/myths-about-the-brain-2016-3
http://wellnessmama.com/1265/saturated-fat/
https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need
http://www.brainfacts.org/sensing-thinking-behaving/sleep/articles/2015/roundup-sleep-and-the-brain/
http://www.realsimple.com/health/preventative-health/benefits-of-reading-real-books
http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/10-benefits-reading-why-you-should-read-everyday.html
http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/12/09/brain-plasticity.aspx
http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/how-does-exercise-affect-your-brain
http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2015/01/23/brain-benefits-exercise.aspx
http://www.brainhq.com/brain-resources/everyday-brain-fitness/physical-exercise

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