Print this page Share

Great Myths of the Brain

ISBN: 978-1-119-06006-2
200 pages
September 2015, Wiley-Blackwell
Great Myths of the Brain (1119060060) cover image


Great Myths of the Brain introduces readers to the field of neuroscience by examining popular myths about the human brain.


  • Explores commonly-held myths of the brain through the lens of scientific research, backing up claims with studies and other evidence from the literature
  • Looks at enduring myths such as “Do we only use 10% of our brain?”, “Pregnant women lose their mind”, “Right-brained people are more creative” and many more.
  • Delves into myths relating to specific brain disorders, including epilepsy, autism, dementia, and others
  • Written engagingly and accessibly for students and lay readers alike, providing a unique introduction to the study of the brain
  • Teaches readers how to spot neuro hype and neuro-nonsense claims in the media



See More

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xii

Introduction 1

1 Defunct Myths 15

#1 Thought Resides in the Heart 15

#2 The Brain Pumps Animal Spirits Round the Body 18

#3 Brain Cells Join Together Forming a Huge Nerve Net 21

#4 Mental Function Resides in the Brain’s Hollows 22

2 Myth-Based Brain Practices 25

#5 Drilling a Hole in the Skull Releases Evil Spirits 25

#6 Personality Can Be Read in the Bumps on the Skull 28

#7 Mental Illness Can Be Cured by Disconnecting the Frontal Lobes 30

3 Mythical Case Studies 37

#8 Brain Injury Turned Neuroscience’s Most Famous Case into an Impulsive Brute 37

#9 The Faculty of Language Production Is Distributed Through the Brain 40

#10 Memory Is Distributed Throughout the Entire Cortex 45

4 The Immortal Myths 51

#11 We Only Use Ten Percent of Our Brains 51

#12 Right-Brained People Are More Creative 55

#13 The Female Brain Is More Balanced (and Other Gender-Based Brain Myths) 65

#14 Adults Can’t Grow New Brain Cells 74

#15 There’s a God Spot in the Brain (and Other Lesser-Spotted Myths) 80

#16 Pregnant Women Lose Their Minds 87

#17 We All Need Eight Hours of Continuous Sleep (and Other Dozy Sleep Myths) 92

#18 The Brain Is a Computer 101

#19 The Mind Can Exist Outside of the Brain 106

#20 Neuroscience Is Transforming Human Self-Understanding 115

5 Myths about the Physical Structure of the Brain 135

#21 The Brain Is Well Designed 135

#22 The Bigger the Brain, the Better 140

#23 You Have a Grandmother Cell 146

#24 Glial Cells Are Little More Than Brain Glue 149

#25 Mirror Neurons Make Us Human (and Broken Mirror Neurons Cause Autism) 154

#26 The Disembodied Brain 160

6 Technology and Food Myths 177

#27 Brain Scans Can Read Your Mind 177

#28 Neurofeedback Will Bring You Bliss and Enlightenment 192

#29 Brain Training Will Make You Smart 201

#30 Brain Food Will Make You Even Smarter 209

#31 Google Will Make You Stupid, Mad, or Both 217

7 Brain Myths Concerning Perception and Action 235

#32 The Brain Receives Information from Five Separate Senses 235

#33 The Brain Perceives the World As It Is 242

#34 The Brain’s Representation of the Body Is Accurate and Stable 249

8 Myths about Brain Disorder and Illness 258

#35 Brain Injury and Concussion Myths 258

#36 Amnesia Myths 265

#37 Coma Myths 273

#38 Epilepsy Myths 280

#39 Autism Myths 286

#40 Dementia Myths 294

#41 The Chemical Imbalance Myth of Mental Illness 300

Afterword 316

Index 318

See More

Author Information

Christian Jarrett has a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of Manchester. He is editor of the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest; author of the Brain Watch blog for WIRED; a blogger for Psychology Today; and columnist for 99U, the New York-based creativity think tank. Dr. Jarrett is also the author of The Rough Guide to Psychology (2011) and editor of 30 Second Psychology (Icon Books)

See More


"THESE days you can't go to a children's birthday party without one of the adults making a knowing comment about the excited scamps being "high on sugar". In fact, there's no evidence that sugar makes children hyperactive. But the remark illustrates the way false beliefs about how our brains work permeate most aspects of life – as does the burgeoning of buzzwords like neuromarketing or neuroleadership. Such "neurobollocks", to borrow the title of a popular science blog, is ably and entertainingly demolished by Christian Jarrett in Great Myths of the Brain. As a journalist in this field, I thought I would know most of these myths, but there was plenty here that was new and interesting to me." (New Scientist, December 2014)

"The book is also very impressive in its scope, covering things like the historical notion that the heart was actually the source of consciousness, to modern-day problems like how fMRI scans are believed to be far more powerful than they actually are. The writing is often very clear but without compromising accuracy or thoroughness, which is an impressive feat in its own right." (The Psychologist, Autumn 2014)

“Christian Jarrett’s Great Myths Of The Brain is the sort of book that every amateur brain enthusiast should have on his or her shelf. The book is an effort to assemble all the common and not-so-common myths about the brain, past and present, and explain why they’re all wrong using genuine neuroscience.” (BBC Focus Magazine, January 2015)

"Great Myths of the Brain is a kind of primer that teaches neuroscience by debunking neurononsense, beginning with ancient ideas like “Thought Resides in the Heart.” You’ll learn that much of the neuroscience you hear is trivial or wrong, and also see the useful research threads to follow. The word “brain” isn’t entirely giving us false hope. A neuroscientist-turned-writer, Christian Jarrett is editor of the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, a blogger, and the father of baby twins. His elegant, enthusiastic prose doesn’t shy from controversy." (The Weekly Standard, April 2015)

 “As you can tell from the length of this review, there is a lot to be learnt from this book. I certainly learnt a few things even if I wasn’t always taken in by some of the myths out there. The brain is a remarkable organ and clearing away the myths to see what is really there will show its true strengths and if you use in your fiction, make for better up-to-date stories. Read, digest, learn and dispel those myths.” (SFCrowsnest.org.uk, 1 November 2014)

The Brain is the sort of book that every
amateur brain enthusiast should have on
his or her shelf. The book is an effort to
assemble all the common and not-socommon
myths about the brain, past and
present, and explain why they’re all
wrong using genuine neuroscience.

The more we are interested in the brain and how it explains our behaviour, the more important it is that we rid ourselves of untruths and half truths. Myth buster extraordinaire, Christian Jarrett, is an engaging and knowledgeable guide who spring cleans the cobwebs of misinformation that have accumulated over recent years. You will be surprised at some favourite beliefs that turn out to be scare stories or wishful thinking. Yet, Jarrett conveys a strong optimism about fresh approaches that will result in new knowledge.  All claims are well substantiated with references. It will be fun to learn from this book.—Professor Uta Frith, UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience

Christian Jarrett is the ideal guide to the fascinating, bewildering and often overhyped world of the brain. He writes about the latest discoveries in neuroscience with wonderful clarity, while cleanly puncturing myths and misinformation.—Ed Yong, award-winning science writer, blogger and journalist

Great Myths of the Brain' provides and incredibly thorough and engaging dismantling of neurological myths and misconceptions that abound today. For anyone overwhelmed by copious bogus neuroscience, Christian Jarrett has generously used his own mighty brain to clear this cloud of misinformation, like a lighthouse cutting through the fog.—Dr Dean Burnett, Guardian blogger, Cardiff University

Lots of people cling to misconceptions about the brain that are just plain wrong, and sometimes even dangerous. In this persuasive and forceful book, Christian Jarett exposes many of these popular and enduring brain myths. Readers who want to embrace proper neuroscience, and arm themselves against neurononsense will enjoy this splendid book, and profit greatly from doing so.—Elizabeth F. Loftus, Distinguished Professor, University of California, Irvine

Christian Jarrett, one of the world’s great communicators of psychological science, takes us on a neuroscience journey, from ancient times to the present.  He exposes things we have believed that just aren’t so.  And he explores discoveries that surprise and delight us.  Thanks to this tour de force of critical thinking, we can become wiser—by being smartly skeptical but not cynical, open but not gullible—David G. Myers, Hope College, author, Psychology, 11th Edition

A masterful catalogue of neurobollocks.—Dr Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science and Bad Pharma

In this era of commercialized neurohype, Christian Jarrett’s engaging book equips us with the skills for spotting the authentic facts lost in a sea of brain myths. With compelling arguments and compassion for the human condition, Jarrett teaches us that the truth about the brain is more complicated, but ultimately more fascinating, than fiction.—The Neurocritic, neuroscientist and blogger

Christian Jarrett has written a wonderful book that is as entertaining as it is enlightening. When it comes to brain science, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Jarrett has done us all a great service by peeling back the layers of hype to reveal what we really do know - and don't know - about how the brain functions.—Prof Christopher C French, Goldsmiths, University of London

See More

Related Titles

Back to Top