Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Misconceptions About the Human Brain
One of the reasons I love biology is because it teaches me so much about the way our bodies function. The way the human body works is a miracle in itself, and the brain is such an amazing, incredibly complex, constituent of it. The human brain is the largest of all mammals in comparison to our bodies, and it is the most important aspect to how humans evolved to rule the world. Our brains allow us to not only carry out basic organismic functions, but it has the capacity to carry out a variety of high-level cognitive functions with nearly 100 billion neurons. There are several fields that focus on the study of our brain- from medicine to psychology. Even so, there are so many facets of the human brain that remain mysterious; there is still a lot to learn about this intricate organ. The information we do know about our brains can sometimes be misconstrued or mistaken, however.
As someone who loves to debunk myths and learn more about common misconceptions, I was interested to learn about some common myths of the human brain. It proved how much there is to know about the brain, and how I had still barely grasped the source of all this information. For instance, many people are unaware of the color of the brain. Is it grey or yellow like you see in the jars of a laboratory? Is it pink like you see in animations or pictures? Actually, it is a multitude of colors. There is a black component of our brain called the substantia nigra, which is part of the basal ganglia. It is also red, due to the large amount of blood vessels. The brain is mostly made up of grey matter- but the nerve fibers which connect the grey matter are white! So what gives a brain the bland color you see when observing it in a lab? Its color is due to the formaldehyde used to preserve it!
Another common misconception about the brain is that recreational drugs such as ecstasy will put holes in it. I've heard someone say that taking ecstasy is like actually taking an ice cream scoop out of your brain! In reality, the only instance that causes a hole in your brain is physical trauma. That doesn't mean taking such drugs are healthy for your brain, though. Researchers claim that drugs can cause long and short term changes in your brain- such as the level of neurotransmitters it produces. When this happens, neurons experience damage and can cause many permanent problems. Drug use also causes memory loss and can change your brain chemistry so that it becomes addicted to the drug that was taken. One thing drug usage won't do though, is put a hole in your brain.
Observing a drunk person once is enough to prove that alcohol directly affects the brain. Alcohol can cause nausea, slowed reaction time, hangovers, and impaired decision-making. However, does alcohol actually cause brain cell damage? No, it does not. Even severe alcoholics do not experience loss of brain cells from drinking alcohol. What they do experience, however, is damage to the dendrites on the ends of their neurons. The cell itself is not necessarily damaged, but the way it communicates with others is. This can cause memory problems, confusion, and lack of muscle coordination. So while alcohol does not necessarily kill brain cells, it can still go to great lengths to damage your brain.
The last misconception I will tell you about concerns the volume of our brain we actually use. It is a common myth that we only use 10% of our brain in our daily lives. This is likely one of the most popular misconceptions of our brain, considering Einstein has been quoted saying a variation of it, and the fact that the media has publicized this myth for years doesn't help. Many books have been written claiming it can empower you to harness the abilities of the other 90%. Some people believe psychics are those who are able to tap into the other 90% of their brains. However, this myth can be easily disproven. Disabilities can occur from damage to small portions of each part of the brain, so how is it possible that we can function with just 10% of the mass? Brain scans show that no matter what we are doing, our brains are always active. Although some parts may be more active than others, there is no part of our brain that is completely inactive.
Did you find these facts interesting? I must admit that although I was aware some of the myths in this article were untrue, I learned a lot just from reading why they weren't. There is still so much to learn about the brain in the many fields that study it, so there are probably many more misconceptions that will be proven untrue in the future. If you'd like to continue reading about some of these misconceptions, click on this link: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/10-brain-myths.htm#page=10
Lindsey Dugas (1)