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MEP learning pack

Masters in Educational Practice: Child and adolescent development 0-19

9

Neuromyths and education

9.2

Common neuromyths in education

Activity

Reflect on the statements below:

  • Do you know what evidence there is in the approaches that you use in school?
  • How is teaching linked to learning theories or current neurocognitive understanding?
  • Where do you usually take your facts from?
  • Do you usually accept approaches that are commonly used or have an evidence base?
  • If it sounds scientific is that convincing enough?
  • Is usual practice always best practice?

Sometimes neuromyths too easily become ‘facts’ within the classroom and it is critical to examine the validity of these facts. For example, you have probably heard people say:

  • ‘Some people are left-brained or right-brained.’
  • ‘We only use 10% of our brain.’
  • ‘Dominant learning styles: Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic.’

Activity

Reflect on the statements above and ask yourself whether:

  • you have heard some of these myths?
  • you believed they were facts?
  • what you have read so far has changed your belief?
  • you think you should validate some of the other ‘neurofacts’ that you have been told?

Neuroscience is exploring how the brain works and the evidence emerging is beginning to dispel many of these neuromyths.

Some people are left-brained or right-brained

Even though neuroimaging studies have, for more than a decade, demonstrated that human cognition is far too complex to be controlled by a single hemisphere, the myth that oversimplifies learning styles, that some people are left-brained or right-brained has taken more than a decade to expose. The evidence shows that there are complex neural networks throughout both hemispheres of the brain that communicate constantly, and even these neural networks change in response to genetics and the environment throughout our lives.

This particular neuromyth can be traced back to clinical research in the 1960s describing lateralised functioning in split-brained patients who had their corpus callosum (a band of nerve fibres that divides the cerebrum into left and right hemispheres) severed in an attempt to reduce their severe epilepsy. There is also more recent psychophysical and neuroimaging evidence showing that in most people, the semantic system is left-lateralised. The resulting over-simplification of this kind of research leads to neuromyths that the ‘left-brain’ thinks analytically, the ‘right-brain’ thinks holistically, and therefore these two ‘brains’ can be taught separately in the classroom. Everything in this myth is incorrect. Most brain functions occur bilaterally, i.e. in both hemispheres.

All typically developing individuals, including the children in our classrooms, have an intact corpus callosum. Their cerebral hemispheres do not operate in isolation. All the information available in one gets transferred to the other. We do not have two brains in one, just one brain exhibiting, like many body parts, bilateral symmetry.

Activity

The absurdity of the 10% myth

Evolution would simply not develop a brain which was so inefficient that 90 per cent of it was not being used. We also know that if you have a stroke or brain injury that affects a small region of the brain, it can have devastating effects on many aspects of functioning. In addition, electrical stimulation of points in the brain during neurosurgery has failed so far to reveal any dormant areas where no percept, emotion or movement is elicited by applying small electrical currents.

‘Do we really use only 10% of our brains?’

We use most of the brain most of the time; furthermore our brains are highly interconnected (refer to ‘Topic 7 – Neuroscience and Education Working Together’). Watch Murphy’s Neuromyths Busters:

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Dominant learning styles: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic

This neuromyth suggests that everyone is either a V, A or K-type learner. This claim erroneously assumes that individual differences in perceptual acuity are maintained throughout higher order information processing and ultimately with learning. This is a false assumption. Neuroimaging studies into cross-modal processing have demonstrated that input modalities in the brain are inter-linked (Calvert, Campbell, & Brammer, 2000) i.e. visual with auditory, visual with motor, motor with auditory, visual with taste, and so on. A brief period of reflection shows this must be the case. For example, when watching television news with a live link where the reporter’s sound is not synchronised with the picture, we are able to tell that there is a difference even when it is a matter of only milliseconds.

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