Probably after war and natural disaster, our greatest societal evils are a consequence of cognitively unexamined assumptions translated into well intentioned policies. War on drugs, war on poverty, war on obesity, postmodernism, blank-slateism, de-institutionalization, etc. All well intentioned and all had substantial unanticipated negative consequences. And that is the barest tip of the iceberg.
Jarrett reports on research on commonly held myths about the brain.
Kelly Macdonald at the University of Houston and her colleagues, including Lauren McGrath at the University of Denver, recruited a total of 3,877 people to take a survey of brain myths hosted on the Testmybrain.org website. This included 3,045 members of the general public, 598 teachers, and 234 people with “high neuroscience exposure” (defined as having completed many college/university courses related to the brain or neuroscience). The researchers had sent messages to neuroscience email lists and social networks to attract people with neuroscience training to take the survey.No wonder it is so hard to progress when cognitive pollution is so prevalent even among experts within a field.
The survey featured 32 statements about the brain, 14 of which were true (e.g. we use our brains 24 hours a day) and 18 of which were false (e.g. we only use 10 per cent of our brain). Many of the items were the same or similar to those used in earlier surveys of belief in neuromyths among teachers in the UK and The Netherlands. The participants’ task was simply to indicate which statements were true and which were false.
The good news is that teachers endorsed fewer brain myths than the general public, and those participants with neuroscience training endorsed fewer brain myths than teachers. And yet, all three groups still displayed high levels of brain myth endorsement, especially for what Macdonald and her colleagues identify as the classic brain myths, including:
Learning styles myth (endorsed by 93 per cent of the public, 76 per cent of teachers, and 78 per cent of those with neuroscience education)
A common sign of dyslexia is seeing letters backwards (endorsed by 76 per cent of the public, 59 per cent of teachers, and 50 per cent of those with neuroscience education)
Listening to classical music increases children’s reasoning ability (endorsed by 59 per cent of the public, 55 per cent of teachers, and 43 per cent of the neuroscience group) [more on music-related neuromyths]
Children are less attentive after consuming sugar (endorsed by 59 per cent of the public, 50 per cent of teachers and 39 per cent of the neuroscience group)
The left-brain right-brain myth (endorsed by 64 per cent of the public, 49 per cent of teachers and 32 per cent of the neuroscience group)
The 10 per cent myth (endorsed by 36 per cent of the public, 33 per cent of teachers, and 14 per cent of those with neuroscience education – my unfriendly correspondent is not alone).