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Is it true that only 10% of the brain is utilized?

Are we all super humans but suppressed by our own body to conform to the commonality of every day life waiting to be awaken?

In 1936, an introduction by American writer Lowell Thomas to Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” included a statement that would later circulate widely: “Professor William James of Harvard used to say that the average man develops only 10% of his latent mental ability.”

This notion gained momentum, leading to claims that humans utilize merely 10% of their brains. However, the origin of this statement attributed to James, a revered figure in American psychology, remains uncertain. Yet, it is definitively untrue.

“We’re always using all of our brain.”

Erin Hecht, an assistant professor of evolutionary neuroscience at Harvard University,

The notion, remarked Julie Fratantoni, a cognitive neuroscientist and head of operations for The BrainHealth Project at the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for BrainHealth, is an amusing myth. Fratantoni indicated uncertainty regarding whether the 10% mentioned relates to volume or other aspects like energy metabolism, electrical activity, or blood oxygenation levels: “Is it 10% of energy metabolism? Is it 10% of electrical activity? Is it blood oxygenation levels?” This widespread myth even prompts questions from students. According to Hecht, when the myth arises in her classes, she responds,

“If only 10% of your brain is in use, you’re probably hooked up to a ventilator.”

Brain activity was likened by Hecht to the heart’s behavior during the body’s resting state; the heart continues to pump even if it’s not operating at its maximum capacity. Similarly, the entire brain and its cells, known as neurons, are consistently active, even at a basic level.

“Neurons need to fire at a baseline level to maintain their own health.”

According to Fratantoni and Hecht, while discrete regions categorize the brain, it functions through diverse networks. No singular region operates independently. Fratantoni exemplified the default mode network, which engages multiple cognitive areas to process thoughts and social interactions.

So, how is brain activity determined? Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) stands as the most effective tool to gauge brain activity. This neuroimaging technique necessitates a person lying in a tube-like scanner while responding to various stimuli. The scanner detects changes in blood flow in the brain, indicating heightened energy utilization in distinct regions.

“The notion is that brain areas receiving more blood are expending more energy and are consequently more functionally engaged in whatever is being contemplated.”

Erin Hecht

Our brains allocate fewer resources to well-practiced skills. When we practice a skill, observable changes occur in the brain. Hecht notes that brain tissue linked to those skill-related regions physically enlarges. Researchers speculate this growth might arise from neurons extending connections to neighboring neurons or increased vascularization promoting enhanced blood flow. Simultaneously, as the brain becomes more adept at a skill, it becomes more efficient and demands less energy.

“It has been observed,that as proficiency in a learned task increases, a decreased level of brain activity is evident.”

Erin Hecht

Mental energy, characterized as the conscious effort invested in completing tasks, serves as an effective measure of individual brain engagement, as per Fratantoni. Since scientific testing of mental energy isn’t feasible, this metric allows for a subjective evaluation.

“In my perspective, a more suitable approach would involve understanding one’s full capacity. What efforts could be made to achieve a more complete potential?”

Erin Hecht

The solution lies in consistent practice of the specific skill one is developing.

In essence, the concept of utilizing only 10% of the brain is not just inaccurate but also inconsequential. Hecht highlighted instances where individuals, following severe injury or stroke, managed to reinvigorate abilities “as other parts of the brain took on the function” previously governed by the damaged area. The remarkably adaptable brain can reorganize itself in the face of loss or injury, thereby altering what constitutes 100%. Despite injury or partial removal of brain regions, every mind can adapt to function at its optimal capacity.

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