Skip to content

Do we really only use 10% of our brains?

3 minute read
A girl at school completing a task with headphones in

For almost a century, it’s been one of the biggest myths about intellectual potential, with everyone from Albert Einstein to psychologist William James supposably citing the idea that we only ever use 10% of our brains.

The neuromyth is said to date back to a self-help ad published in the 1920s that said, “There is no limit to what the human brain can accomplish. Scientists and psychologists tell us we use only about ten per cent of our brain power.”

Hollywood has even weighed in on the topic, with Scarlett Johansson’s blockbuster movie, Lucy, based entirely on the premise that humans only use one-tenth of their cranium’s capability. Morgan Freeman, who plays a neurologist in the film says, ‘It is estimated most human beings only use 10% of their brains' capacity. Just imagine if we could access 100%.’

So, before you start imagining your superhuman potential, how much of your brainpower do you actually use?

Just like Scarlett Johansson’s character Lucy, you use a whopping 100% of your brain (but unfortunately you probably won’t get Lucy’s space travelling abilities, ninja skills or Louboutin heels with your noggin capacity).

Credit: TED-Ed

Neurologist Barry Gordon spoke to the Scientific American and explained:

“We use virtually every part of the brain, and [the majority of] the brain is active almost all the time. Let's put it this way: the brain represents 3% of the body's weight and uses 20% of the body's energy.”

Your brain is made up of three major parts, the cerebrum, which is the largest portion of the brain and is responsible for higher cognitive functions; the second is the cerebellum which looks after motor functions; and lastly, the brain stem, which manages involuntary functions. However, it’s the millions of neurons communicating with each other that take up the most brain power.

What’s even more incredible about humans is that people who have experienced a brain injury, or had parts of their brain removed, can still find ways to do daily tasks because of the phenomenon that scientists have dubbed ‘neuroplasticity’.

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change and form new brain cells and it means that a brain injury patient may be able to relearn basic tasks again with the help of rehab. The bad news is, the ability to read minds, not feel pain and memorise a heap of information instantly isn’t something you’ll be able to unlock with a magic pill anytime soon.

But, the good news is 90% of your brain isn’t left standing idle and contributing nothing to your overall intelligence.

If you’re looking to beef up your brain, check out our article exploring why adrenalin junkies have a stronger cerebral cortex.

See all articles

Articles you might also like

By 2050, we could all be living to 120, but how?

It looks like turning 100 will soon be more commonplace

Skin deep: 3D printing human skin

How does 3D printed human skin work? We look into this tech.

Nanotechnology: The future is small but mighty

What's the potential for nanotechnology in healthcare?

By 2050, we could all be living to 120, but how?

It looks like turning 100 will soon be more commonplace

Skin deep: 3D printing human skin

How does 3D printed human skin work? We look into this tech.

Nanotechnology: The future is small but mighty

What's the potential for nanotechnology in healthcare?