Belief in neuromyths is extremely common

August 10, 2017
brain
Credit: public domain

Researchers have surveyed educators, the public and people who have completed neuroscience courses, to assess their belief in neuromyths. Neuromyths are common misconceptions about brain research, many of which relate to learning and education. They found that belief in neuromyths is extremely common and that training in education and neuroscience helped to reduce these beliefs, but did not eliminate them.

Would you rate the following statement as 'True' or 'False'? "A common sign of dyslexia is seeing letters backwards." If you chose 'True' then you are in good company - 76% of the public, 59% of educators and 50% of people who have completed courses agree with you. The problem is, the statement is false. It's a neuromyth, and a recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology has shown that these misconceptions are incredibly common.

So, why does it matter if people believe in neuromyths? Many neuromyths relate to , but misinterpret or overstate the original research. They are often oversimplifications, reducing complex issues to just one factor, such as "kids are less attentive after eating sugary snacks".

For teachers who believe the dyslexia neuromyth above, they might miss an opportunity to get a child with dyslexia appropriate help, if the child doesn't display letter reversals. Similarly, teachers using educational techniques based on neuromyths may achieve better results by switching to evidence-based methods.

While previous research has shown that in neuromyths is worryingly common in other countries, there was little known about this problem in US educators. Kelly Macdonald, a graduate student at the University of Houston involved in the study, had previously worked as a teacher. "I encountered neuromyths throughout teacher trainings and saw many teachers using related practices in their classrooms," she says.

Macdonald and her colleagues investigated the prevalence of neuromyths in US educators using an online survey where respondents chose 'True' or 'False' for a series of questions about common neuromyths (for the full list check out the study). They also surveyed the public and people who had studied neuroscience, to see if training in education or neuroscience had any effect on neuromyth beliefs.

The survey revealed that neuromyth beliefs are remarkably prevalent, but that training in education and neuroscience helped to reduce these false beliefs. The public believed 68% of the neuromyths, educators 56%, and surprisingly, respondents with neuroscience training endorsed 46%.

"We were surprised at the level of neuromyth endorsement from respondents with neuroscience experience," says Lauren McGrath, an Assistant Professor at the University of Denver who led the research study. "However, the myths they believed were related to learning and behavior, and not the brain. So, their training in neuroscience doesn't necessarily translate to topics in psychology or education."

What myths did respondents most commonly believe? The most commonly endorsed myth was "individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style". Other common myths were related to the Mozart effect, dyslexia, using 10% of the brain, how sugar affects attention, and the role of the left and right hemispheres in learning. "We were surprised to see that these 'classic' neuromyths tend to cluster together, meaning that if you believe one myth, you are more likely to believe others," explained McGrath.

So, how can we dispel these neuromyths and encourage evidence-based educational practices? "The next steps are to develop training and dissemination approaches," explains McGrath. "We are considering an online training module for educators to dispel the most prevalent neuromyths. The fact that people tend to believe several myths means that modules can't just teach about a single myth, they need to address several simultaneously."

Explore further: How myths about the brain are hampering teaching

More information: Frontiers in Psychology (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01314

Related Stories

How myths about the brain are hampering teaching

October 16, 2014
Myths about the brain are common among teachers worldwide and are hampering teaching, according to new research published today [15 October].

Updating memory for fact and fiction

July 23, 2014
Sunlight can make people sneeze. Sounds ludicrous? But it's true - it's called a photic sneeze reflex, and can occur in about one out of four people. Did you believe that fingerprints are unique to each individual? That, ...

Recommended for you

Suicidal thoughts rapidly reduced with ketamine, finds study

December 14, 2017
Ketamine was significantly more effective than a commonly used sedative in reducing suicidal thoughts in depressed patients, according to researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). They also found that ketamine's ...

Do bullies have more sex?

December 14, 2017
Adolescents who are willing to exploit others for personal gain are more likely to bully and have sex than those who score higher on a measure of honesty and humility. This is according to a study in Springer's journal Evolutionary ...

Children's screen-time guidelines too restrictive, according to new research

December 14, 2017
Digital screen use is a staple of contemporary life for adults and children, whether they are browsing on laptops and smartphones, or watching TV. Paediatricians and scientists have long expressed concerns about the impact ...

Eating together as a family helps children feel better, physically and mentally

December 14, 2017
Children who routinely eat their meals together with their family are more likely to experience long-term physical and mental health benefits, a new Canadian study shows.

The iceberg model of self-harm

December 14, 2017
Researchers have created a model of self-harm that shows high levels of the problem in the community, especially in young girls, and the need for school-based prevention measures.

Encouraging risk-taking in children may reduce the prevalence of childhood anxiety

December 13, 2017
A new international study suggests that parents who employ challenging parent behavioural (CPB) methods – active physical and verbal behaviours that encourage children to push their limits – are likely protecting their ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.