The human brain is mysterious and still quite complex. It is precisely for this reason why various myths about how the brain works exist, despite lots of evidence to the contrary.
One of the popular and widespread of these myths is the idea that human beings only fully utilize a tiny percentage of their brain’s power and potential or often referred to as the 10% of brain myth.
The widely-spread and popular belief that we have access or only use 10% of our brain’s potential is often used to speculate about the extent of human abilities if only we could utilize our brain’s total capacity.
We often experience the shortcomings of our mental abilities, such as forgetting some vital piece of information or failing to understand a complicated math problem. Perhaps because of this, people often feel they possess some unexplored potential, if only they could unlock that untapped portion of their brain.
In reality, the 10% claim is an absolute myth. You use all of your brains. The only times where there are new regions of the brain are those in which disease or brain damage has destroyed certain areas.
How Does the Brain Work?
Are you aware that our brain is composed of around 100 billion nerve cells called neurons? The primary function of neurons is to transmit as well as gather electrochemical signals. We can compare this to the gates and wires in a computer.
To learn how the brain works, we need first to understand how neurons function:
Generally speaking, neurons have the same genetic makeup and the same characteristics as other human bodies. But what makes them transmit signals over long distances is the mere fact that they possess electrochemical spaces.
Every neuron has 3 parts:
1. The soma or cell body
This is where all the critical components of a cell, including the ribosomes, nucleus, endoplasmic reticulum, and mitochondria, are contained. If this part dies, the whole neuron dies.
2. The Axon
This is a lengthy wire-like projection of the cell that carries electrochemical messages along the cell’s length. They can be covered by a thin layer of sheath called myelin. Myelin is made of fat and protein and is responsible for transmitting nerve impulses down a lengthy axon.
3. The nerve endings or dendrites
These are branch-like, small projections inside the cell that allow communication between other cells and neurons and make connections to other cells. They are usually located at both or one end of the cell.
Neurons come in different sizes and shapes, depending on their function. For example, a neuron found in the brain can have an axon extending only a few millimeters, while one sensory neuron from the fingertip has an axon that extends to the end of the arm.
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Neurons also vary with their functions
Sensory neurons transmit signals from our body to our central nervous system; motor neurons communicate information and carry signals from your central nervous system to other parts of our body; while interneurons connect many neurons in the brain and the spinal cord.
The Origins of the Myth
Experts suggest that this popular modern legend has existed since at least the early 19th century. It may have been influenced by people misinterpreting or misunderstanding neurological research. The 10% myth may have cropped up from the writings of philosopher and psychologist William James.
In his book, The Energies of Men, in 1908, he noted, “We are utilizing only a small part of our possible physical and mental resources.”
The myth has perpetuated much like other modern legends. Films depict characters capable of extraordinary feats when the purportedly untapped 90% of their minds are “unlocked.”
Well-intentioned people such as teachers or motivational speakers often cite the 10% myth as a way to demonstrate that all individuals should strive to live up to their full potential. Unfortunately, less well-meaning individuals have also used the myth to sell and promote services and products that they claim will unlock your brain’s hidden abilities.
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Debunking the 10 Percent Myth
Neuroscientists point out multiple reasons why the 10% myth is untrue:
Brain imaging scans exactly show that almost all brain regions are active during even reasonably routine tasks such as walking, talking, and listening to music.
If the 10% myth were real, individuals who suffer brain damage due to a stroke or an accident would probably not notice any real effect. In reality, there isn’t a single brain area that can be harmed without resulting in some consequence.
We would not have evolved such huge brains if we were only using a minute portion of them.
- The brain uses around 20% of the body’s energy. It can make little evolutionary sense to have such a considerable portion of our energy resources utilized by such a small amount of our brain.
- Brain mapping research has yet to locate any place of the brain that does not serve a function.  Various kinds of brain imaging studies show that no area of the brain is inactive or completely silent,” wrote Dr. Aaron E. Carroll and Dr. Rachel C. Vreeman in the research of medical myths. “Elaborate probing of the brain has not succeeded in identifying the ‘non-functioning’ 90 percent.” 
Unfortunately, the 10% myth remains both persistent and widespread. It has been repeated in popular culture in everything from television programs to advertisements to Hollywood blockbusters such as the 2014 film Lucy starring Morgan Freeman and Scarlett Johansson.
The next time you hear someone boast that we only use 10% of our brains, you’ll be able to explain why this statement is untrue. Not to say that human beings don’t have fantastic potential; we use a hundred percent of our brains to accomplish these remarkable feats.