Whenever I hear someone trot out the old “we only use 10% of our brains” canard, especially in defense of some wondrous power they claim to have or claim others have, I conclude immediately that they may be engaged in projection. Ben Radford has a look at some widely believed but false statistics and says this is pretty much the holy grail of the field.
This is one of the classic, venerable, and fatally flawed (yet widely believed) bogus science statistics of all time. If they ever create a Museum of Spectacularly Skewed Statistics, this one will be the main attraction, behind velvet ropes and under gleaming spotlights.
Many people believe that some scientist somewhere calculated that we only use 10 percent of our brains. For some it implies that psychic powers must be real and simply the result of people who are able to somehow harness the other 90 percent of their brains that the rest of us don’t use. It’s not clear where exactly this amazingly flawed statistic comes from, but it’s not from neuroscience or modern medicine, which shows that we use all of our brains. Brain imaging research techniques such as PET scans (positron emission tomography) and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) clearly show that the vast majority of the brain does not lie unused, researchers have found.
In the book, “50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology,” psychologist Scott Lilienfeld explains: “The last century has witnessed the advent of increasingly sophisticated technologies for snooping in the brain’s traffic… Despite this detailed mapping, no quiet areas awaiting new assignments have emerged. In fact, even simple tasks generally require contributions of processing areas spread throughout virtually the whole brain.” In other words, you’re using all of your brain, like it or not.
Fairly or unfairly, if someone says this to me I will assume that they have nothing of value to say to me on any subject at all.