Do we only use 10 percent of our brains: A misconception or an extraordinary belief?

Believed to have started due to a misquote or misinterpretation of the works of Albert Einstein and Pierre Flourens in the 19th century, the belief escalated through time. It’s not certain if it was due to William James in 1908 or due to Karl Lashley between 1920-1930. Lashley’s involvement in this theory revolves around what we recently stumbled upon in class. His experiments with rats and their brains tell us a lot about how our brains function. He was the one who said that the damage to memory does not depend on where the damage is located in the brain. (Eric, 2005) Though the belief was started due to misinterpretations and misquotes, it was made popular by the most popular folk devil of all times, the internet, social media. The information ones given access by media escalates like wildfire. One interesting thing about this belief is that it was either started or believed by intellectual people, who were great contributions to the field of science. This is why this belief is a bit different than other extraordinary beliefs. When a scientist, who is believed to have high credibility, starts believing in this, it is easy for the public to follow their ideas and beliefs. This belief is still popular to this day. Dr Kalat pointed out another theory for this reasoning. According to him, in the 20th century, neuroscientists were already aware about the huge numbers of neurons that are placed locally in the brain. But unfortunately, they knew very little about these cells, which ultimately got correlated to the 10 percent myth. (Kalat, 1997) It is an extraordinary belief as it does not have any scientific backing. It has no evidence to support the claims.


While talking about why this claim could make sense we need to know that “one reason this myth has endured is that it has been adopted by psychics and other paranormal pushers to explain psychic powers.”(Mikkelson, 2014) The reason it’s used for psychic reasoning is that they easily get away with saying, since most of the people only use 10 percent of their brains, psychics have the special ability to use more than 10 percent, this is the reason they have their ability in the first place. Though it’s a convincing argument, it fails to provide a causal relationship. Even though this would have been a good argument for the claim, more scientific advances and reasoning has debunked this theory. First of all, many brain scans have shown that most of the regions of the brain are active during the day to day routine. (Cherry, 2018) We also know that if this belief was true then there wouldn’t be any significant difference in people who face brain damages, due to accidents. We know this because no matter what part of the brain is damaged it still causes a difference in memory. (Cherry, 2014) There is a default in logic too with this theory, we wouldn’t have such a large brain if we were only allowed to use a small portion of it. (Cherry, 2014)


There are many cognitive contributions that contribute to this belief system. Firstly since the belief came into existence due to intellectual personals, we know that authority plays a big role in this. Whereas we know that authority cannot and should not play a role in scientific claims. Another concept that plays an important role is confirmation bias. The scientists like William James, have invested way too much time and effort in this belief, for them to accept that it is untrue. Therefore they start making illogical interpretations of their research to confirm their beliefs. It is also important to know that post hoc reasoning could have been a reason why people still believe in this belief. As we know psychics claim they are psychics, as they can use more than 10 percent of their brains. Which means the belief led them to believe that they have access to more than a normal person. Post-hoc explanations prevent bad hypotheses from being discarded. People believe in these beliefs because they don’t have anything to lose.  “When the reward is great and the cost of the behavior is minor, the tendency toward superstition is increased.”(Killeen, 1997) In this belief especially the research and studies were misinterpreted. For example one after the other many works of scientists, some who said that only 10 percent of the mind has been mapped, Craig Karges, who said that the brain is divided into two parts. One part is conscious, which is about 10 to 20 percent of the brain and the other part is subconscious which is 80 to 90 percent of the brain. All these theories somehow misinterpreted as humans can only use 10 percent of their brain. (Mikkelson, 2014)


Though the belief started in the 19th century, due to media, it had now got a platform, where millions of people keep misinterpreting the information and making their beliefs stronger. The internet is a platform where anyone and everyone can put their thoughts forward, there are no restrictions on what people say. (Hawkins, 2012) The people who believe in this myth are all over the place and come from all walks of life. Social media platforms like facebook and twitter, always help in spreading news like wildfire.


Finally, in conclusion, we should try our best and not give into these beliefs, we need to think critically, by using 100 percent of our brain to figure out if something actually makes any sense. If we could only leave behind confirmation bias and post hoc reasoning, we will be able to see the real truth. As intellectual people of society, we must learn to know the full truth about a claim before we blindly accept it. We can either follow what other people believe and never be able to discover our full potential or we can use 100 percent of our brain to achieve the greatest we actually deserve.



Hawkins, Sara. “How Free Speech and Social Media Fit Together.” Social Media Marketing | Social Media Examiner, 20 Jan. 2019,

Cherry, Kendra. “Do You Really Use Only 10 Percent of Your Brain?” Verywell Mind, 31 Oct. 2018,

Chudler, Eric H. “Do We Use Only 10% of Our Brain?” Neuroscience For Kids, 13 Oct. 2005,

Mikkelson, David. “FACT CHECK: Do We Only Use Ten Percent of Our Brains?”, 25 July 2014,

Shuttleworth , Martyn. “Post Hoc Reasoning – Failure of Concluding Causality.” Explorable,

Kalat, James W. Biological Psychology. 6th ed., Brooks/Cole Pub Co; 6 Edition (1705).

24 thoughts on “Do we only use 10 percent of our brains: A misconception or an extraordinary belief?

  1. I think this belief is notable because it “evolved” (devolved?) out of scientific research. Most of these beliefs seem to sprout from attempts to rationalize seemingly extraordinary phenomenon, but this one comes out of the scientific attempt at an explanation. It feels like that is a relatively uncommon origin – can you think of any other extraordinary beliefs that stem from scientific research? The closest ones that come to mind for me are those about pharmaceuticals and HIV/AIDS and cancer being manufactured by the U.S. government.

  2. This belief is SO popular! As soon as I saw that this had been posted, I was so frustrated with myself because of the immense popularity associated with it (and the fact that I didn’t think of it)! There have been a handful of movies that centers on this premise of only using 10% of our brains. One movie that comes to mind is Lucy, which came out in 2014 with Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman. Your point that you cited from (Cherry, 2014) that stated, “we wouldn’t have such a large brain if we were only allowed to use a small portion of it” is so crucial! It guides one to really think about our brains and our capacity for learning skills, and performing every day tasks. I’m also very fascinated with Neuroscience so this was a very easy read for me. Thank you for your post!!

    • Thanks a lot, I know right the way movies and documentaries use this myth has kind of blown it way out of proportion. Especially when this kind of visual media portrays is, it influences people largely.

  3. I think this concept is so weird because it is still so prevalent in today’s society. I remember believing this when I was a kid, although I cannot remember where I heard it. I think I still believed it up until college, when I started taking more psych classes with a brain focus and my professors basically said that that’s not true.

    • It’s not a shocking that you don’t remember where you heard it, because it is every where. If a person would actually take out time to critically think these claims through, its very easy to see through it, because these claims are silly.

  4. This belief kind of reminds me of beliefs that we hear in some of our psych classes on how scientists spread a theory but people took as truth. Once the scientist knew it was false and tried to have the media stop it, the media refused because of the publicity that came with the belief. However, I feel now people are more responsible because they don’t look into the info, they just believe it because theres research behind it, “proving” its true. I think people also think that it would be cool to have powers because thats usually what is depicted so they try to believe this or others want to seem smarter than others. Although a lot of beliefs come to having a community, a lot has to do with individualism and I think this belief plays in part into that because people want to be special. This also reminds me of the misconception of left brain and right brain on how one part is controls creativity and the other side logic. Its just interesting to see how this belief has been kept around because the resources have evolved to back it up. I also had no idea psychics used this towards their advantage to “prove” to people that they are legit.

    • I know right people usually never look at research that might prove the belief untrue. One research for the myth is good enough evidence for people to make their devotion to a myth stronger.

  5. Hello!
    This was an interesting choice for your blog post!! I wanted to read this post because I saw a movie a while ago that was based on this idea. The movie gave a drug that allowed humans to use larger percentages of their brain at a time. This man became very powerful compared to the normal human. When I saw it I was first like wow maybe thats true. I was just in misbelief a medicine such as that could exist. After reading your evidence though, it does make sense that doctors have scanned brains and know the activity level. I find it interesting that psychics use this to prove themselves as well. All very convincing but interesting when you put the data forth. Great post!!

    • Thank you. The level at which these people use this myth is amazingly shocking. And psychics have really put in so much money and time in trying o prove their abilities. Therefore when this came by, they got an easy pass for their wrong behavior.

  6. As neuroscience is my minor, I have always been curious about if we truly only use 10% of the brain. Our body functioning is so intricate, I do not see how we are only using 10%, but surgery is possible on every area and damage to any area on the brain has an effect on how we function. Just as you said, there are scans that have proven activity in the brain in most regions of the brain. If you have ever seen the movie “Lucy,” it shows a woman who can use more than 10% of her brain and that she has the ability to have extraordinary powers. I believe this theory is more believable when the media emphasizes it because at one point even I thought it was true because of how many times I have heard it.

    • I like that multiple people have referenced this movie, the concept of accessing “more” of your brain has been the premise of several movies and yet it still draws people in. It doesn’t make sense, especially if you think about brain surgery that is done with the patient awake. Using tools to stimulate any part of the brain can make different reactions happen, so why would we assume we can’t access those parts of the brain?

  7. I’ve always heard this saying! I’m glad you provided an explanation of how became popular. This discussion reminded me of an extension of the theory that says taking psychedelic drugs helps you access that ‘other’ 90% of your brain, hence why you see the strange things you would. While certainly thought-provoking, the cognitive contributions sound more convincing!

  8. This theory brings to mind so many popular movies that I have seen in the past few years. I know some other people have commented on the movie Lucy, and this is definitely a movie talking about using more of our brains. The belief that taking some sort of pill can open up the rest of our mind is interesting to say the least. Something interesting like this can always draw people in, but often lacks the research. I definitely agree with you that think critically can help us avoid the trap of falling in to a conspiracy theory, but sometimes they are just so powerful.

  9. It’s shame I used to believe that. Seems like it’s rooted in many people’s mind which influence the current media, arts work. Your data is really helpful to remind me that belief is not true.Hopefully this belief would not spread more.

  10. Yes, I totally agree with you that we should take advantage of the internet and social media instead of being led and controlled. I remember that there was a film called Lucy in 2015. The main theory in the film is that if human are able to use more than 10% of their brain, what will happen? The film showed us that if we are able to do that we could control the gravity! It looks stupid because the brain development would conflict with many scientific rules and theories.

  11. I still remember how people discuss the possibility of human being when the movie Lucy came out. But it still very strange to think that people could perform super power by using 100% of brain power. Also, most popularity of this superstition may come from the potential profit from some brain development course. There always a group could benefit from specific extraordinary groups, their motivation should also be part of the whole formation of these misconceptions.

  12. One could easily entertain the idea of only using 10% of the brain because it would imply that humans are capable of so much more than they already are. I have heard this myth multiple times, except that we only used 20% of our brains, not 10. Furthermore, as someone with a background in neuroscience, I do not know how this would even be possible considering each part of the brain has a different (but known) function.

  13. Like many of the extraordinary beliefs that have been discussed on this blog, it’s clear that this belief is merely a result of massive scientific illiteracy, even in the most-developed countries in the world. As long as people are not receiving education that allows them to critically think, this kind of belief is bound to persist. Plus, I think this belief has a very encouraging underpinning because it inherently provides this idea that you can always improve yourself if you can just figure out how to use *a little* more of your brain

  14. I am ashamed to say that there was a time earlier in my life when I believed this notion to be true. The problem was that I was completely ignorant to the mechanisms by which the human brain functioned and had never been exposed to research based experimentation on the human brain. I think it is easy to believe something absurd like this when you have no knowledge of the subject matter, and this is precisely the danger to be more aware of as we navigate the world around us.

  15. I thought your blog post was really interesting. When I was little, I remember my friends telling me that we only use 10% of our brain. Somehow, I believed them and I don’t really remember when I stopped, it may have been in AP psych junior year of high school. I think authority is the biggest factor in believing this extraordinary belief.

  16. I believe most of us have watched a movie called “Lucy”, and it is my first time that I know some people believe human can’t completely use the brain. But I think it’s really ridiculous. The brain needs to consume a large amount of energy to keep working, so it’s impossible that we evolve such a useless organism which we even can’t completely use it. But I believe that some people have a bigger brain which can contain more knowledge easily.

  17. I think this theory is interesting to people because it plays on the idea of untapped potential in terms of intelligence. Not only would you have greater capabilities and mental expansion, but completing everyday tasks and climbing up the social ladder would be a breeze. It’s super nifty to think about, however I think it ultimately just sells people some sort of false prophecy that they have more hidden talents or potential than they truly do.

  18. I remember the first time I heard about this theory was when I saw the movie ‘Limitless’ where Bradley Cooper takes this pill that allows him to access 100% of his brain (because everyone only uses 10%) and he has crazy abilities and can do whatever he wants. It was interesting to find out though that this theory started out by actually well-know scientists. I could see how this could get a huge following, but if we didn’t use 80% of the brain I feel like we would start loose it or our brains would shrink from the unuse.

  19. Wow, such a funny thing, because I never researched this myself. I only heard about this theory and after that the movie ‘Lucy’ and ‘limitless’ got created and even I believed in it for a while. But if you think more deeply and critical about this conspiracy it does make sense that it is not accurate. We know that depending on what cognitive process you engage in, all kind of different parts of the brain are involved in it, so we definitely use more than only 10%

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