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Great Myths of the Brain



Great Myths of the Brain

Christian Jarrett

ISBN: 978-1-118-31270-4 September 2014 Wiley-Blackwell 232 Pages

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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



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

"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.” (, 1 November 2014)