Brain Myths: Crosswords, Math Skills

An assignment (no sources required) written on 2015-02-11 by me for an online class at University of Central Florida: EDF 6529, Learning Theories Applied to Instruction and Classroom Management.

Question: What are some misapplications and/or neuromyths that may be less than beneficial to the educational process?

I am glad to see that my fellow students have covered important neuromyths such as the myth of learning styles (they do not really exist), the mythical implications of being a right-brained versus left-brained individual, the myth that we only use 10% of our brains (we use all of our brains), and the myth that plasticity completely vanishes after early childhood. These ideas are very common among the typical American, but are very wrong, and negatively influence learning by discouraging people from taking on new tasks and by encouraging them to have a defeatist attitude.

Commonly, people believe that crossword puzzles and other “brain exercises” help their minds stay sharp and help them avoid dementia in old age. Even young people believe these activities have significant benefits to their brains, despite a plethora of scientific evidence that such puzzles do little or nothing for the brain, while physical exercise greatly benefits the brain. Nevertheless, people want to believe in Cartesian mind/body dualism—they seem to want to believe the brain is separate from the body to justify living a sedentary lifestyle. This is a difficult but important myth to overcome, since debunking this myth will help people reallocate their time and resources to such things as cardiovascular exercise which will actually help their mind and body more than crossword puzzles. This can affect college students as well—when they are cramming for exams, exercising might help them retain more information and score higher.

The myth that one is simply not a “math person” is quite strong. It is similar to the myth that one is not a “morning person,” though perhaps even less supported. However, if people who are not good at math can develop the discipline to learn mathematical skills piece-by-piece starting at a remedial level, they will probably become pretty good at higher math in a few months or years. You might even see other areas of their life where they employ such discipline, yet this myth allows them to hold themselves back from exploring math. Discrediting this belief and others might be accomplished through modeling; if a person observes or hears stories about many people developing mathematical skills from a challenging starting position, he or she might replace this belief with one that is more accurate and empowering.

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