Neuromyths in Education

Ideas about the brain are often used by teachers to guide lesson planning. Likewise, learning is a subject that is of great interest to neuroscientists. However, the gap between the laboratory and the classroom, and the scientist and teacher, means that miscommunication and misinterpretation of scientific studies and results can occur. As a result of this, a number of “Neuromyths” have developed.  These neuromyths are based on scientific studies which are often taken out of context or over emphasised.

These neuromyths include the idea that students are either right- or left-brained, that we only use about 10% of our brain and fatty-acid supliments improve academic acheivement.
A survey published by Dekker et al. (2012) looked at teachers beliefs of 15 of these neuromyths in the UK and the Netherlands. They found that on average, teachers interested in neuroscience believed almost half of these neuromyths.

Below we discuss three neuromyths, what they are based on, but why they are wrong.

Neuromyth 1:  Learning should take place between critical periods of neuronal growth (synaptogenesis).
The truth:  Studies have shown that rapid development of new skills is associated with periods of  neuronal growth.  However, these skills continue to develop even once synaptogenesis is complete and the neuronal level is at that of an adult. Added to which, any type of learning or training will lead to changes in neuronal connections (Goswami, 2006).

Neuromyth 2:  Students’ learning style should be identified as kinesthetic, visual or auditory and should receive learning in their style.
The truth:  This NeuroMyth comes from studies that show that different parts of the brain process kinesthetic, visual and auditory information.  However, a review by Pashler et al. (2009) found that there is no evidence that this improves learning, in fact several studies found that this may restrict learning.

Neuromyth 3:  Students should be identified as left or right brained according to their academic abilities.
While it is true that some skills are associated with either the left or right side of the brain, neuroimaging shows that more complex, yet everyday tasks require both hemispheres (Nielsen et al. 2013).