Brain myths

There’s a long list of oft-quoted “facts” about the brain that are due for a debunking.

Written by Medibank
Illustration of the thought processes in the brain

1. The brain is grey

Every brain we’ve ever seen is grey, so brains are grey, right? Wrong. While still in its crib, the pulsating brain is a technicolour kaleidoscope of, well, grey, white, black and red. ‘Grey matter’ we know about, but the brain also contains white matter, fibres that connect the grey matter and black stuff called substantia nigra, which is Latin for ‘black substance’, important in eye movement, motor planning, reward-seeking, learning and addiction. The red stuff? That’s blood, you ninny.

2. Alcohol kills brain cells

Have we got good news for you! This one’s not true! Alcohol doesn’t actually result in the death of brain cells. It can make them a bit redundant by screwing up how the cells communicate, but researchers believe this damage is mostly reversible. So while alcohol doesn’t kill brain cells, it can still damage your brain if you drink in mass quantities, which might help take your mind off the fact your liver has swollen to the size of a zeppelin.

3. Classical music makes you smarter

And listening to Crazy Frog makes you stupid? Nopedity. Although we’d say that’s a chicken or egg question. In the ’50s, an ear, nose and throat doctor named Alfred Tomatis claimed success using Mozart’s music to help people with speech and auditory disorders, but scientists have been unable to replicate these results, and there’s currently no scientific information to prove that listening to classical music makes anyone smarter.

4. Brain damage is always permanent

Brain damage can be caused by anything from being hit on a head with a hammer to watching commercial television, but this doesn’t always mean living in a vegetative state. The brain can recover completely from some minor injuries and certain people can recover partially from an injury. The brain can also create new pathways between neurons. Amazingly, this means it can relearn how to do things, but be warned, there’s simply no way back from too much breakfast TV.

5. The human brain is the biggest

We have big brains, but it’s about the ratio. A dolphin’s brain is just over one kilo, while a sperm whale has a brain that weighs almost eight kilos. Yet, a sperm whale has never starred in its own TV show, has it? Size does matter, but it’s more about what you do with it. Most of the action is in the cerebral cortex and humans generally have the biggest one relative to the size of their brains. Check out the cerebral cortex on that!

6. Crossword puzzles keep your brain younger

No they don’t. Crosswords are annoying and therefore we think they must be doing us some good. That’s why a lot of people do crossword puzzles each day, believing the activity will help keep the brain young and even keep Alzheimer’s or dementia at bay. Sadly, while crosswords may help your vocabulary, there’s no evidence they’re a fountain of youth for your brain.

7. It’s all downhill after 40

Your brain, like the rest of you, loses some function as you get older. The same is true of your muscles, your skin, your eyes, your ears and your, you know what. Things like memory and concentration gradually decline, but plenty of mental skills improve with age. Wisdom, for example. You can’t put a price on that. Things like experience, judgement, the ability to do long division… younger brains can’t handle.

8. You are either left-brained or right-brained

Or front brained, or back brained, or bird brained? The brain is divided into two hemispheres, right and left, and these hemispheres also carry out some different tasks. People are often left handed or right handed, therefore many think it’s the same thing with the brain and so on and so forth. Nope. The truth is that the two sides of your brain go together like love and marriage. Some people may have dominant abilities that pertain to one side, but everyone uses both sides of their brain.

9. We only use 10% of our brains

If you jump into a dried-out swimming pool and crack your head, one of three things could happen. One: You die. Two: You unleash the rumored 90% extra power in your brain, learn how to fly (or at least levitate) and move objects by touching two fingers to your temple, pursing your lips and concentrating. Not true. Brain scans have shown that no matter what we’re doing, much of our brain is active at all times, unless we have brain damage, which brings us to option three…

10. You can’t grow new brain cells

Until 1998, scientists believed that people generated all of the brain cells they would ever have by the age of two. Wrong. Scientists now know that new cells can be created in the adult brain, having observed adult neurogenesis in birds, monkeys and humans. We don’t know what this means either, but it has to be good right? The biggest myth about the brain is that we understand it. We don’t, but we will continue to have fun trying.

Written by Medibank

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