I have always been fascinated by the brain. It is partly the reason why I started studying psychology – I wanted to know why we behaved in certain ways and the brain has a lot to do with understanding behavior. The human brain is a complex and misunderstood organ. We are even more aware that it is special and unique when compared to the brains of other species. Thanks to the advancement of neuroscience, we are able to correct some common myths and misconceptions about the human brain and find out why it is so special and unique.
Below are 4 known myths about the brain, and the truth behind each of these:
The Human Brain has 100 Billion Neurons
This may seem like a lot or not enough depending on perspective, but is usually the number that is given when discussing the brain. Neurons are the core of the nervous system. They consist of cells that have tendrils extending out on both ends, almost like tree branches. The brain uses neurons to process information, coordinate actions and control subconsciously operating bodily functions.
In actual fact, the human brain usually contains about 86 billion neurons, not 100 billion. This difference of 14 billion may not seem significant at first. However, consider this, a baboon brain has about 14 billion neurons, and a gorilla brain has only half of that.
Bigger is Better
The size of the brain is not actually very useful in determining the power of the brain. Species that are related may have similar size brains and functional cognitive capacity, but when comparing different species, size is not relevant. An example of this is that a cow has a much larger brain than a monkey but their cognitive abilities are much less than any primate.
For humans, the best way to compare brain size to brainpower is to study the brains of larger mammalian species such as whales or elephants. Most human brains are about 3 pounds whereas a sperm whales brain is about 17 pounds. This means that if brain size determined brain power, whales would be cognitively superior to humans.
The Human Brain is the Largest Brain Relative to Body Size
This myth has been around for a long time since Aristotle wrote in 335BC: “Of all the animals, man has the brain largest in proportion to his size.” It makes sense when you consider our supposed brain power compared to other species. The reality is that the human brain-to-body ratio is very similar to other species.
Our ratio is 1/40, which is bigger than the elephants which are 1/560. On the other hand, compared to a mouse it is about the same. Also compared to birds it’s even less, as they have 1/12 ratio.
Bigger Brains have More Neurons than Smaller Brains
Obviously brain size is different depending on species, however, it was believed neuron density is consistent across all mammals. This is untrue though as it has been discovered that neuronal density is different across all species.
For example, primate brains increase in size and simultaneously gain more neurons. Whereas rodent brains increase in size faster than they gain neurons. And then there are insectivores who have cerebral cortex’s and cerebellum that grow much faster than they can gain neurons.
As you can see there is quite a bit of misinformation when it comes to matters of the brain. However, due to technological advances and neuroscience studies, we are able to understand our own processes better. We are starting to realize that practices such as meditation can actually increase grey matter within 8 weeks. Besides that, scientists have only recently discovered neurogenesis – the process of neurons being regenerated. Before that, it was believed that once brain cells are damaged or dead, they cannot be repaired. We have a lot still to learn about ourselves and our fascinating brains.