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Lies, damned lies, and brain myths

By Timothy Cocks Education for all 21 Oct 2014

Recent piece from the opinion pages of The New York Times

How Brain Myths Could Hurt Kids

The idea that we only use 10 percent of our brains has been roundly debunked — but, according to Paul Howard-Jones, an associate professor of neuroscience and education, teachers don’t necessarily know that. In an article in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, he reveals the disturbing prevalence of this and other “neuromyths” in classrooms around the world, and explains why they can be so damaging.

In one study Dr. Howard-Jones cites, 48 percent of British teachers agreed with the statement “We mostly only use 10 percent of our brain.”

Neuromyths “reflect the cultural gap between two areas of human activity that should have a lot to do with each other, but struggle to communicate,” Dr. Howard-Jones told Op-Talk

“Something we have to get across to educators is the fact that the brain is plastic and the fact that its function, structure and connectivity changes as a result of education.”

To dispel neuromyths, Dr. Howard-Jones advocated a collaborative approach: “We need messages, ideas and concepts that are constructed together by neuroscientists and by educators.” And, he said, “we need a field that actually combines concepts from both of these areas in a meaningful way.” Such a field is beginning to emerge, with research centers devoted to topics like “educational neuroscience,” or “brain, mind and education” — “it’s such an embryonic field that people are still to decide what it’s actually called, but it is happening.”

A former teacher himself, Dr. Howard-Jones was clear on one point: “These myths are not because teachers are stupid.” Part of his goal in writing about neuromyths was to emphasize how important teachers are in the drive to dispel them(Emphasis added)


The 10% myth has made an appearance here before, but this article reveals an insidious and potentially detrimental aspect to this, and other, persistent misconceptions about the brain.

As Explaining Pain become increasingly widespread, therapists are more and more taking on the role of ‘neuroimmune science teacher’ – a role that that has the responsibility, even obligation, to actively help dispel these myths.

But it’s hard work and talking about the brain and pain can be fraught with difficulty.

Here’s a basic list of 5 things we think you need to Explain Pain well:

1. A good knowledge base

2. A multimedia dimension to your presentation

3. Education skills

4. Some conceptual change skills and knowledge.

5. An ability to pick, understand, and use metaphor wisely.


This is far from a complete list – add your own in the comments below.


-Tim Cocks


Like a grumbling volcano, the activity is building at noi HQ – a seismic event is on the horizon. Check in at noigroup regularly to get the latest and be amongst the first to know! 



  1. And an orange shirt, floral under pants and a cheeky sense of humour……….medical intervention is “Show Time”. Our knowledge base is solid science with a healthy portion of experiencial learning. The application is an “Art Form”
    On location😎

    1. Hey David, Yes! It’s hard work being ‘on’ delivering this material at times – and it needs to be adapted to the person in front of you of course, but I too am convinced that this is part of effective Explaining Pain.
      Thanks, as always fro dropping by,
      From HQ

  2. davidbutler0noi

    There are so many neuromyths around – many from misinterpretation of research (eg the Mozart effect and IQ) and they are persist on. A good read on this topic is “Tall Tales about the Mind and the Brain” edited by Sergio Della Sala (Oxford University Press 2007). One of the issues with the recent new liberating knowledge about brain plasticity is that it can be easy for a proponent of a neuromyth to somehow link it to plastic changes in the brain. Homeopathy, graphology, dream analysis, altered behaviour around the full moon………………..

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