Common Myths About the Brain

Three Common myths about the brain in a Scientific American article, one involving the common mistake, written about here previously, of confusing correlation and causality.

  1. Myth: We only use 10 percent of our brainpower.
  2. Myth: Some people are left-brained, others right-brained.
  3. This myth has to do with alpha waves — see the following:

We can achieve a deeper sense of con­scious­ness and relaxation by boost­ing our alpha waves. Purveyors of “alpha consciousness” have encouraged people to undergo brain-wave biofeedback—in some cases using commercially available devices—to increase their production of alpha waves, brain waves that occur at a frequency of about eight to 13 cycles per ­second. Yet research shows alpha-wave output is largely or entirely unrelated to long-term personality traits and short-term states of contentment.

As Barry observed, the myth of alpha consciousness reflects a confusion between “correlation” and “causation.” It is true that people tend to display a heightened proportion of alpha waves while meditating or relaxing deeply. But this fact does not mean that an increased production of alpha waves causes heightened relaxation. Moreover, research shows that elevated levels of alpha waves are found in some children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, who are anything but relaxed.

Kalea Chapman, Psy.D.


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Clinical Psychologist practicing in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.

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