Have you ever found yourself at a lively party, only to hear the age-old tale that your left brain is the analytical mastermind, while your right brain is the creative genius? Or perhaps you've encountered the belief that you can reshape your brain using 10 habits, or that we can understand a person using personality types test? These notions, like snakes, infiltrate our conversations and beliefs, often dictating how we perceive ourselves and others.
Myth 1 Left vs Right brain
For years people thought that the left side of the brain was the rational, analytical and logical side while the right side was more creative and artistic. Thanks to advanced techniques like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we've gained incredible insights into how our brain hemispheres work together. Contrary to the old belief, there aren't strict boundaries between logical and creative functions. When it comes to language, logic, memory, logic, or creativity, both hemispheres team up and collaborate. So, that myth of one side being solely responsible for specific abilities? Consider it officially debunked!
Myth 2 Personality Tests
Ever found yourself labelling yourself as an introvert? I do it pretty often, to be honest, it's something we all do in an attempt to simplify the complexities of human behaviour. This desire to streamline personalities gave birth to various personality tests like MBTI or the colourful red/blue/yellow/green ones, used globally, even in recruitment processes.
But try to take the same test on a Tuesday and then on a Saturday, and I bet you won't get identical results. Why? Because human personalities are as diverse and dynamic as the weather! The problem lies in these rigid categories; they don't account for the nuances. Imagine being 51% introverted and 49% extroverted on Tuesday – you'd still be stamped as an introvert. Just like how our understanding of gender and sexual orientation has evolved into spectrums, it's time we view personalities the same way.
Myth 3 Female vs Male brain
We have all heard the stereotype that women are emotional and sensitive, while men are rational and logical. I vividly recall my mom telling me that my empathetic nature was just a typical female trait. As it turns out, empathy knows no gender boundaries; it's simply a trait of being a decent human being. With years of intensive research using tools such as fMRI scans (which can look at the anatomy and the functionality of the brain), we now have evidence debunking these gendered brain myths. There are no distinguishable features that set a female brain apart from a male brain, except for size. And guess what? The size difference is purely due to the variation in body size between males and females. So size definitely doesn't matter!
Myth 4 The Lizard “reptilian” brain
The notion that our brains are neatly compartmentalised into distinct layers like Russian dolls – the reptilian, limbic, and mammalian – each contributing to our intelligence over evolutionary time, is a concept rooted in a 1960s theory. According to this idea, the reptilian brain governs primal behaviours such as aggression or fear while the limbic system supposedly is responsible for emotions and memories, and the mammalian brain, would be the last part of the layer, allowing us to think abstractly and construct cars, setting us (human) apart from other animals. First, our brains did not evolve in a linear, layered manner like a sandwich. And, while the structural components exist, they do not neatly segregate functions. Secondly, the idea that emotions or primal instincts are confined to a gross oversimplification of our complex system. Neuroscience argues that instead, the brain is an intricate network, where multiple regions collaborate and communicate extensively, rather than being localised.
Myth 5 Reprogramming your brain
I find it quite terrifying and overwhelming that every time I step into a bookstore there are thousands of self-help books claiming that these “10 amazing habits will reshape your brain”. Specifically, nowadays so many books and guidelines have adopted the word neuroplasticity and argued that it can be used to your advantage to reshape your entire brain.
Let me tell you something, your brain loves stability! It will fight to keep the most balanced equilibrium and not move in any shapes or forms if possible. What neuroscientific call neuroplasticity most often refers to synaptogenesis (the rise of new connections between neurons) and neurogenesis (the born of neurons). And while this definition of neuroplasticity involves changes in your brain, they happen mostly during development and in a continuous way to keep your brain equilibrium, it is like “homeostasis” (if you know a bit of biology!)
The way pseudo-scientists assume that you can reorganise your brain using new habits is a myth! Do not get me wrong, doing sports, starting to read, and meditating are wonderful for your health and might increase longevity but they will not reshape your brain. The only reason why your brain will reorganise itself is if it contributes to the stability of the system! So, while the brain functions as a collaborative network, it is a pretty stable one!
Those self-help books penned by chiropractors. Reading them is pretty dangerous, as they are crafted by individuals who lack any substantial background in neuroscience. Not to mention, they often, if not most of the time mixed and mingled in personal experiences. They often result in a pseudo-scientific blend of anecdotal science that will not fit everybody's experiences and can be quite misguiding.
“Personal opinion disclaimer”
A few concluding thoughts. I wholeheartedly encourage everyone interested in understanding better what is in the black box that lives in our head to look at neuroscience news. They are quite easy to read compared to daunting science articles!
It is also quite worrying how many of these already debunked myths persist in education and our everyday lives. It is pretty crazy that I had to study neuroscience to discover I had the same brain as my male colleagues! Teachers, parents, and even politicians continue to propagate these misconceptions. The reason why these myths persist might be because, like personality tests, they simplify behaviours and simplify people using categories while ignoring deeper institutionalised issues. And, although neuroscience has its limitations and can be sometimes a bit hard to understand. But most of you who read me probably agree that relying on evidence-based information is crucial (and the only way to propagate information!).