The Ten Percent Myth

  • Published10 Jun 2014
  • Reviewed22 Jan 2015
  • Author
  • Source BrainFacts/SfN

While the idea that we only use 10 percent of our brain may seem like common knowledge, it’s only a myth. In fact, we use 100 percent of our brain, although we don’t use it all at once. Which parts we use at any given time depend on the task that we’re doing, as this comedic video from the 2014 Brain Awareness Video Contest demonstrates. Christopher Thompson, a research associate the Florida Home of Scripps Research Institute created the video with his brother, comedian Hank Thompson.

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Chris is writing in a notebook. Hank sits at the table, hungry. A tray with a lid covering a plate is on the table.

HANK Hey, what’s this?

He removes the lid, revealing a pink brain jello.

HANK Oh, yes! I’m starving!

Hank pulls a big fork out of nowhere. Then a big knife.

CHRIS Hey! Hey! No! That’s for dinner.

HANK Relax, professor. I’m not going to eat the 10% you actually use.

CHRIS I need 100% of it. And you’re referring to the myth that people only use 10% of their brain.

HANK That’s right. It’s not a myth. It’s common knowledge.

CHRIS It’s common, but it’s not knowledge.

Chris finishes putting on his lab coat. Hank nods to Bode.

HANK What about him? He’s obviously not using more than 10 percent.

Bode crosses a line out of a calculus book while simultaneously moving a chess piece without looking.

HANK Neither is he!

Hank points to Harlan. Harlan is Bode’s opponent. He is wearing a GoPro on his head. He is reading a book and makes a chess move.

CHRIS Of course they’re using more than 10 percent. They’re using 100% of their brains. I hate to admit it but so are you.

HANK I am?

CHRIS People use 100% of their brain. Just not all at the same time.

HANK Haven’t you seen the movies? People who use more than 10% unlock incredible powers.

Bode and Hank and Harlan face the camera.

HANK Like telepathy!

Hank looks at Harlan and Bode intensely.

HANK One of you has poopy pants.

BODE Or telekinesis.

Hank and Bode and Harlan focus on an object. After a beat, it slowly starts to move across the table. A string is clearly visible.

HARLAN Or pyrokinesis.

Hank and Bode and Harlan focus on something. Close up on a candle. A grill lighter emerges into frame and lights the candle. Hank and Bode and Harlan are sitting far away from the candle.

HANK See? If we put all 3 of our heads together, then we’re using, like, 30% of a brain!

CHRIS All of that is nonsense. The brain is a complicated organ with trillions of connections. It has vital regions that all interact together and activate depending on what you’re doing at the moment.

While Chris is talking, Hank reaches for a piece of the brain jello.

CHRIS There!

Hank freezes.

CHRIS You just used your brain!

HANK I did?

CHRIS (taking the fork) You used your motor cortex

HANK My motor vortex?

Overhead shot of the brain. Chris points with the fork.

Shots of Hank watching.

CHRIS You use all parts of your brain. Every part plays a role. Like here, this is the visual cortex. It gets information from the eye. This is the auditory cortex. It’s where your brain processes what you hear. This is the somato-sensory cortex. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to sense when you’re touching something.

Cut to homonculus of Hank.

CHRIS Here is what we call the homonculous. It’s a map of the body’s parts on brain and the parts that are most sensitive take up more space, like the hands and the mouth.

Show the humonculous.

HANK Speaking of hand to mouth, can we eat that brain now?

CHRIS No. Remember the motor cortex? You used when you were reaching? That’s right here. It controls muscles throughout the body. You wouldn’t have reached if you didn’t want to. Your choice to do that stemmed from the frontal and pre-frontal cortex, which regulates decision-making, emotion, planning and logic.

HANK. Ok, you’ve convinced me. It’s not 10%. What is it? Twelve? Thirteen?

CHRIS Imagine only using 10% of your car, would you get very far?

Hank’s car. Side shot, the full car is there. Hank goes to get in. As he climbs in, all but the front wheels disappears, Hank falls down.

CHRIS Or if you could only use 10% of the iPad.

Paper with a hole cut out is placed onto a game the boys are playing on an iPad.

BOYS Hey!

CHRIS Or if you could only use 10% of your vision.

Angle from GoPro, but black bars descend to block most of what he sees. Him running, or getting ready to catch a ball.

HANK But if the brain does so many things, then why don’t we use more of it?

CHRIS You do. Just not all at once. If every you’d experience every memory you ever had, every color, sound, smell, emotion, and your muscles would all seize up. your brain would over heat and you would die. Probably.

HANK What about all that potential? Isn’t there so much more we could do with our brains?

CHRIS Potential is a different question. The brain is like the rest of your body It needs good nutrition, low stress, exercise, and good sleep. It will treat you well if you treat it well. In that sense, people could unlock more of their potential, but not in the way you mean.

HANK You mean I can’t communicate with alien armies on the other side of the galaxy.

CHRIS Sorry, no.

HANK Or use my mind to change poopy pants here?

Bode and Harlan share a glance.

HANK Is it finally time to eat? I’m starving!

CHRIS Yes, it’s time. Who wants what part?

Chris dishes out chunks onto plates.

BODE I want amygdyla!

HARLAN I want substantia nigra pars compacta!

Shot of the boys eating a chunk of the brain.