Compiled by Ulrike Rimmele

Ulrike Rimmele holds a Master`s of Science in Neural and Behavioural Sciences from the Graduate School of Neural and Behavioural Sciences/International Max Planck Research School of the University of Tübingen, Germany. She is currently involved in the international PhD program in Neurosciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the University of Zürich in Switzerland.

What is a neuromyth?

“What do you know about the brain?” If you ask someone this question, you are most likely to get one of the following answers: “The right hemisphere of the brain is for emotion and creativity. In contrast, logic lies in the left hemisphere.” Someone else might answer: “We only use of 10% of our brains!” These statements are common misconceptions about brain mechanisms, which are taken for granted in today’s society. Many such myths have evolved around the functioning of the brain. In order to classify them, the OECD coined the term "Neuromyths".

Were do the neuromyths come from?

A neuromyth usually starts out with a misunderstanding, a misreading and, in some cases, a deliberate warping of the scientifically established facts to make a relevant case for education or for other purposes. Due to the expectations of the applicability of brain research to educational practice, myths have rapidly developed around, for instance, the benefit of enriched environments, right- and left-brained dominance, critical periods of learning – to name the most popular ones. When these concepts are debated in journals and the popular press, educators and policy-makers alike are lost as how to discern fact from fiction. This ignorance results in certain dangers.

What are the dangers of neuromyths?

Parents, teachers and educational specialists are naturally eager to put into practice what they have read or heard in the popular media. There is a danger that they might be tempted to too readily adopt so-called “brain-based” teaching or rearing strategies that are in fact not based on any evidence at all. 

How can you spot a neuromyth?

Many neuromyths have become so engrained in the public conscience that they have become widely accepted as facts. It is very difficult for the layman to sift out the scientific facts in warped media reporting. This is why one of the missions of the OECD Brain and Learning Project is to inform the educational sector and public at large of current, new or emerging neuromyths, and to point to solid, scientifically-based educational practice.

On this website, we are providing necessary information to those who are not experts in the neurosciences to help them find out whether or not the evidence they hear regarding neurological and cognitive phenomena is reliable. We will depict the kernel of truth around which myths usually grow, go back to the original research whence the myths arose and demonstrate how results could have been misinterpreted either through oversimplification or wild extrapolation.

The OECD has already published a comprehensive summary on neuromythology that separates science from speculation in Understanding the Brain: Towards a New Learning Science, OECD 2002, Chapter 4.6 pp.69-77

What are the most popular neuromyths?

The brain is only plastic for certain kinds of information during specific "critical periods", with the first three years of a child being decisive for later development and success in life.

"Enriched environments" enhance the brain’s capacity for learning.

There is a visual, auditive and a haptic type of learning.

We only use 10% of our brains.

Myths about bilingualism.

The left brain/right brain myth.