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Neuroscience savvy is little protection from neuromyths

Training in education and neuroscience predicts a lower endorsement of neuromyths, a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology shows. However, results showed that participants with high neuroscience exposure still endorsed a large percentage of neuromyths.


Participants were divided into three groups according to their self-reported educational background: general public, educators, and high neuroscience exposure. The survey contained 32 questions which mixed common knowledge about the brain (such as ‘we use our brain 24 hours a day’) with classic neuromyths: for example, that we use only 10 per cent of our brain, or that some of us are right- or left-brained. The educators group performed ‘significantly’ better than the general public, and so did the ‘high neuroscience exposure’ group compared to the ‘educators’.

However, some percentages are still frightening. On average, educators endorsed 56 per cent of neuromyths, and high neuroscience exposure participants 46 per cent.

Two myths enjoyed particularly high popularity: the belief that students with dyslexia ‘see letters backwards’ and that students learn best when taught in their preferred style.

What can be done? The researchers hope that these results will lead to a collaboration between educators and neuroscientists in order to develop training modules to address these misconceptions. Training in neuromyth-spotting needs to address a wide range of misconceptions, they suggest, as neuromyths tend to cluster: data shows that if you believe one, you are more likely to believe others.

But why are neuromyths so popular? The authors point out that these myths signal a tendency to ‘rely on a single explanatory factor’: the only teaching approach that we’ll ever need (learning styles), the single sign for dyslexia (reversing letters), the single cause of misbehaviour (sugar overconsumption).

We should learn to identify the many factors that influence learning and cognition, the authors say.

That may work better than looking for a magic formula.