Friday, July 18, 2014

Brainless or will the ten percent myth ever die

By now you no doubt have seen the trailer for the soon to be released movie Lucy, staring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freemen - and if you haven't surely your students have, and some will see the movie. If you have you know that the key concept is that the character played by Johansson has a drug of some sort implanted in her body, and when it begins to leak, it begins to give her super powers.

Why? Because this drug heightens her cognitive abilities, and since "we only use 10% of our brains," Lucy now has the ability to use much more of her brain to become this seemingly unstoppable force.

UGH. UGH. UGH. Psychology teachers have to know that this is a myth, and we must teach it to our students, particularly in light of this movie. If you need some resources to use in class, here's an excellent article from the Wall Street Journal by Chris Chabris and Daniel Simon (yes, the Invisible Gorilla guys), and here's an phenomenally good TED ED video by Richard Cytowic (yes, the synaesthesia guy who wrote The Man Who Tasted Shapes).

But what really drew my ire yesterday was this tweet from one of my favorite new science writers, Jordan Gaines Lewis:

WHAT??? How can this be? Surely this has been a mistake, so I tried to track down the source. I looked in the Chabris and Simon article and found this:

These "neuromyths," along with others, were presented to 242 primary and secondary school teachers in the Netherlands and the U.K. as part of a study by Sanne Dekker and colleagues at VU University Amsterdam and Bristol University, and just published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. They found that 47% of the teachers believed the 10% myth.
This can't be right, can it? So I tracked down the journal article - which fortunately you can to, since it's open access - and this is exactly what researchers Sanne Dekker, Nikki C. Lee, Paul Howard-Jones and Jelle Jolles found. What is amazing is that in the appendix to this article the researchers publish the entire list of 32 statements that they used, and they are perfect for use in the classroom. PERFECT. I will not copy and paste them here, but I strongly urge you to visit the article and get those statements to use in your classroom. Maybe even as some sort of pre-test and post-test around your bio unit? (Used formatively, naturally.)

What else can we do? Just what I'm doing now: using this movie to my advantage. I'm using this moment to remind you about this myth, and I think that you and I should spend time in our classes this fall introducing the factual evidence of what neuroscience research has given us to confront these stereotypes. And we may also want to do this in a faculty meeting, since if the research above is valid, our own colleagues may be just as clueless about the truth here. Use this as a springboard!

And as for me, will I see the movie? Oh, you betcha, though I'm probably going to wait for it to show up on Netflix. (I've been a huge fan of director Luc Besson since Leon and The Fifth Element.) What about you? Will you see it, and in what ways can you think to use this as a teachable moment in your classroom?

--posted by Steve


Dawn Clemens said...

Thanks for this! I wrote a blog post for my students using a lot of the information from your post.

Steve Jones said...

So cool, Dawn! Thanks for sharing this info with your students.

new teacher said...

Great post! There is some really helpful stuff here. Keep up the good work!