Welcome back for the third and final Blog post on Philippe Lacroix’s 10 most famous Neuromyths.
Neuromyth N°7: « Female/Young brains favour multitasking »
It is often said that women and younger generations are more skilled at multitasking activities. To the question, “Are they more productive by taking care of multiple tasks at once?”, the scientific answer is categorically “No”. On the contrary, cumulating tasks in parallel puts more strain on the brain. That is namely the reason using the phone was forbidden while driving.
Performing two tasks simultaneously is possible only when one of those is completely automatised, like talking while walking. Even then, the automatic activity can be easily interrupted by unexpected circumstances. Our brain is far more effective when performing one task at a time, regardless of age or sex.
Neuromyth N°8: « Men and women possess vastly different intelligence »
One often hears that men and women possess different intelligence, and that men are more skilled in mathematics, for example. Is that true? Anatomically speaking, the male brain is larger and heavier than its female counterpart. There are also functional differences: the area of speech, for example, seems to be more active in the female brain. Both brains are not soaked in the same hormones, since sexual hormones are present, but no link has been established between these variations and possible differences in cognitive functioning.
Though past reports have suggested a superiority of boys over girls in the field of mathematics, more recent ones question that assertion. 86 countries were involved in a study that proved that the difference, if it exists at all, is slight and more attributable to social factors than gender. A meta-analysis also showed female students have obtained higher grades than boys in any topic for the past century.
Despite the biological differences found in brains of both sexes, they have not yet been credited with any signification. In particular, male and female intelligence remain very similar (though it is worth noting that there is no real scientific definition of intelligence…).
Neuromyth N°9: « Brain Training’s video games are very effective »
Brain training, video games meant to stimulate the brain, which are very popular in the United States, have entered the European market. Are they effectively creating lasting improvements of cognitive functions? Many studies are trying to find an answer to that very question. So far, results have been disappointing. A group of scientists even mobilised to expose the product in the eyes of consumers.
A vast study, published in Nature, analysed the compared effects of three training methods on 11 430 adult subjects:
- Brain training type video training;
- Classic reasoning and problem solving;
- Answering ordinary questions using the internet.
After six weeks, all three groups had increased their cognitive scores at a similar rate.
Two studies in French classrooms showed the effects of Nintendo Brain training to be similar to those of games involving pencils and paper.
Setting aside the absence of compelling results, the main question surrounding these games is the transferability of the skills and knowledge they share. To become more proficient at a certain task, all one needs is practice. So, improving one’s score in a game, by clicking on a target more quickly for example, does not mean this will improve one’s cognitive performances in everyday life.
Three serious, though preliminary, leads emerge:
- Training working memory, especially in subjects suffering from attention deficit disorder;
- Training attention and executive functions;
- Simple action-based video games would improve spatial cognition in a general and durable way.
Neuromyth N°10: « You can learn while sleeping »
The myth that would have people believe they can learn while sleeping is not new. Researchers from the former Soviet Union tried to get to the bottom of this question back in the ’50s and ’60s. Some of their studies produced positive results, but those showed grave methodological errors. This explains why scientists from Western countries were never able to duplicate these alleged results.
To learn, one must be awake, because conscientious efforts are required. Though we can’t learn while sleeping, we still need it for the considerable part it plays in the brain’s development and functioning. It namely allows the consolidation of things we learn while we are awake.
Using Neuroscience to debunk myths
Five pieces of scientific evidence
- We use 100% of our brain.
- Multitasking = slowness + mistakes.
- Our brain is wired to learn for life.
- We are all primarily “visual”.
- Male/Female brains: more similarities than differences.
Five theories rejected by science
- Visual/Auditive/Kinesthetic learning methods;
- Right/Left brain approaches;
- The “Mozart effect”;
- Brain Gym®;
- Brain training-type video games
Medjad, N., Gil, P., & Lacroix, P. (2017). Neuro Learning: Les neurosciences au service de la formation. Paris: Eyrolles.