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Would bilingualism make a difference?

These are the pervasive brain myths that teachers around the world believe

By Adam Epstein

Have you heard the one about how human beings use only 10% of their brains? That myth, of course, has been debunked time and time again. But many teachers—those entrusted with children’s brain development—believe it, according to a recent survey.

A survey conducted by Paul Howard-Jones at the University of Bristol and published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience asked teachers in China, Greece, Turkey, Netherlands, and the UK whether or not they agreed with a series of popularly held—but erroneous—beliefs about the brain. The results, to put it mildly, were disconcerting.

Jones’ research found that 59% of teachers in China and half the teachers in the UK and Turkey believe that we only use 10% of our brains. The survey also showed that the majority of teachers in China, the UK, and Netherlands believe that children will be less attentive after having a sugary snack (also untrue). And 91% of teachers in the UK think people are either “right-brained” or “left-brained” (turns out we use whichever side we need).

Yes. A significant percentage of teachers across the globe believe their pupils’ brains will shrink if they drink five glasses of water per day (it won’t).

Jones says that these myths are often the result of poor communication between neuroscientists and educators. Access to new research is often hidden behind paywalls (Jones’ study is available for free if you register with Nature Reviews Neuroscience). These myths are so pervasive and have been bouncing around the education system for so long that teachers see no reason to challenge them—meaning there’s little incentive to seek out new research in the first place.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that there’s a growing sentiment that neuroscience has a ton of educational value (pdf) and teachers should receive training in it, so that they can teach it correctly to their students. We don’t need our teachers to know how to perform a flawless craniotomy, but they really should know that the other 90% of our brains isn’t just dormant mush.