Our Brains: A Wasted Resource?

This brain scan is taken from a normal person who is awake. The red color shows the highest level of glucose utilization.Have you ever heard people say, 'Human beings use only 10 percent of their brains?' It implies that some gifted scientist has already been able to accurately calibrate the brain's maximum operational capability. But the brain's capacities are impossible to quantify, so any claim to have measured 10 percent of it is extremely suspicious science. In fact, new brain-imaging evidence convincingly dismisses all notions that only 10 percent of the human brain is used at any given time.

In PET (positron emission tomography) scans of nearly any human activity, including sleeping, the brain is highly active. During all cognitive tasks, most brain regions in a scan light up in vivid red and yellow indicating a significant amount of cortical activity taking place. In devastating cases of brain trauma from strokes, disease, and accidents, we often wish that 90 percent of the brain had been held in reserve to provide restored brain functioning. However, there is no single region of the brain that can sustain modest damage without an extensive loss of skills or mental capacity.

We have traced the '10% myth' back to early neuroanatomists, who identified approximately 10 percent of the brain's regionalized responsibilities. Unfortunately, others interpreted this to mean that only 10 percent of the human brain was composed of operative regions.

About the Author

Kenneth A Wesson

Kenneth A WessonKenneth Wesson is a keynote speaker, writer and educational consultant for pre-school through university-level institutions and organizations. He speaks throughout the world on the neuroscience of learning and methods for creating classrooms and learning environments that are 'brain-considerate.' Ken’s articles appear in educational journals.