Consequences of the 10% Myth

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As I read through the textbook, I found myself drawn to the research surrounding the 10% myth. It is one of the most widely known psychology rumors started by William James, the founder of functionalism. He stated that we don't use all of our "intellectual potential", a thought that was greatly misconstrued to mean that we only use 10% of our brains.

However, Karl Lashley's findings are what intrigue me the most. He disproved this rumor by having mice figure out mazes with cuts to different parts of their brains. This was to see if there was a specific area that worked better than others when mice navigated the maze. In fact, his findings showed that no area of the brain was more significant to their navigation.

This finding finally debunks the myth that has contributed to the self-help industry with books that claim to "harness" the other 90% of your brain, therefore helping people stay away from the trap of pseudoscience. Also, it shows doctors and medical professionals that all of the brain is important to the functioning of a person so it is extremely dangerous to cut out even the smallest area. Lashley's finding can help save patients' lives and their ability to function in the world.

Of course, I believed this myth for quite awhile, almost leading me to fall into the basket of unsupported claims that is pseudoscience. I would stop in the self-help section of Barnes & Noble, contemplating how much reading an 120 page guide to using all of your own brain would help me. Luckily, the fiction section was more appealing.

Yet I still wonder how the 10% myth affected the procedures of early surgeries and what it would look like if a person did use only 10% of their brain. These are scary thoughts, but thoughts that are key to understanding the significance of Karl Lashley's findings.


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I love your historical research! I learned something that I didn't know previously--that the 10% myth started with William James!

As for wondering how the 10% affected the procedures of early surgeries, I wonder if that was part of the medical acceptance of the horrific procedure of lobotomies?

The 10 % myth was also further misattributed to Albert Einstein and wonderfully mocked in a very funny movie by Albert Brooks called Defending your LIfe.

Its likely that what the 10% myth really refers to is that many of us only devote 10% of our attention to those important things that we should be focusing on 80-100%

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This page contains a single entry by L. Pipkin published on October 2, 2011 11:47 AM.

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