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Broken Brain Myths

brain fact or fiction?Listening to classical music makes you smarter

In 1993, a small study showed that college students who listened to a Mozart sonata and then took an IQ test got higher spatial scores than those who didn’t. But this so-called “Mozart effect” wore off in less than 15 minutes and researchers disagree on the mechanisms behind it. Listening to classical music has not been shown to improve intelligence in children or adults. In fact, researchers have found that young children who watch classical music-based television learn fewer words, just as children who watch regular television do. However, learning how to play a musical instrument has been shown to enhance cognitive skills in the long term.

The brain does not change.

The idea that the brain does not change after growth ceases may be the greatest misconception that folks have. In actuality, the brain changes throughout life. During embryonic development and early life, the brain changes dramatically. Neurons form many new connections, and some neurons die. However, scientists have discovered that changes in the brain are not restricted to early life. Even in the adult brain, neurons continue to form new connections, strengthen existing connections, or eliminate connections as we continue to learn. Recent studies have shown that some neurons in the adult brain retain the ability to divide. Finally, damaged neurons have some capability to regenerate if the conditions are right.

You only use 10 percent of your brain

You use your entire brain. At some point in your life, you have probably heard this myth. But the truth is that we use virtually all of our brain every day–not just 10%. For example, just reading this article involves engaging your frontal and occipital lobes to see and comprehend and your hippocampus to remember, all while your brainstem and cerebellum help you remain seated, breathing, circulating blood, and digesting your food. And of course your pituitary gland and hypothalamus are regulating hormones, temperature, and much more.

Doing crossword puzzles can keep your brain young.

Crosswords are fun and may improve your ability to find words, but they don’t help your brain’s overall cognition or memory.

Many people believe that a crossword puzzle a day will help stave off dementia or Alzheimer’s–but there is no evidence to support that claim. That’s because crossword puzzles only flex one part of your brain, which is word finding (also called fluency.) So they might help you get better at word finding, but not keep your brain sharp in any general sense.

A person’s personality displays a right-brain or left-brain dominance.

The two sides of the brain are intricately co-dependent.

You may have heard that you can be “right-brained” or “left-brained”–and that those who favor the right are more creative or artistic and those who favor the left are more technical and logical. But brain scanning technology has revealed that the two hemispheres of the brain most often work together in complex processing. For example, language processing, once believed to be the provenance of the left hemisphere only, is now understood to take place in both hemispheres: the left side processes grammar and pronunciation while the right processes intonation.

Drinking alcohol kills brain cells.

Moderate alcohol use doesn’t kill brain cells, and while rampant alcohol use can damage the brain, it’s not due to cell death.

We always hear that drinking booze can kill brain cells, but the truth is, the amount of alcohol needed to kill brain cells would also kill the person drinking it. Moderate drinking does not appear to kill or even damage brain cells. Alcoholics can experience brain damage due to drinking, but it’s not because alcohol kills brain cells–it’s because the alcohol can damage the dendrites that are found at the end of the neurons, which causes problems in cell communication in the brain. Another brain disorder alcoholics may develop, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, is actually due to thiamine deficiency, because alcohol disrupts its absorption.