Lucy and the 10 Percent Brain Myth


It’s unfair to have Morgan Freeman, with his smooth, deep voice, say it. In the trailer for the upcoming film Lucy, the actor who has played both the President and God addresses an auditorium of students and says, “It is estimated most human beings only use 10 percent of their brain’s capacity…Imagine if we could access 100 percent.” It’s hard not to believe Morgan Freeman. But in this case, he’s wrong.

The idea that we only use 10 percent of our brains is a myth. “The crazy thing about this belief is that despite being totally false, it is so well-known,” says Sam Wang, Ph.D., a Princeton neuroscientist and author of Welcome to Your Brain. So how did it start?

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New in Cerebrum: Older Fathers Having Children

The baby boomer trend of marrying and having families later than the previous generation was one reason for the most comprehensive study to date on parental age and offspring mental health. The findings—published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in late February—garnered considerable attention for reporting that children born to middle-aged men are more likely than their older siblings to develop any range of mental difficulties, including bipolar disorder, autism, schizophrenia, attempted suicide, and drug abuse.Cerebrum - July 2014 - article - content

The authors of the study, Brian M. D’Onofrio, Ph.D., and Paul Lichtenstein, Ph.D., impressively summarize the data and the feedback they have received since the article was published in “The Age Gauge: Older Fathers Having Children,” the featured Cerebrum article for July.

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PTSD Awareness Day: The Future of Treatment

Post-traumatic stress order affects approximately 7.7 million adults in the United States, but it is critical to remember that there are effective treatments and more are on the way. Last year in this space, Dana Alliance member Kerry Ressler said we understand the neural circuitry behind PTSD well enough that we can pinpoint where it starts. “It’s solvable,” he said.

Ressler, whose work was recently featured in an Emory Medicine article, has combatted fearful memories with drugs as well as extinction training immediately after a trauma. Alliance member Liz Phelps has worked on modifying fear-related memories through extinction training as well. Another DABI member, Jordan Grafman, who was interviewed here two years ago, recently said that “all memories are modifiable, so the lesson is to take the PTSD memory and figure out a way to modify it through new associations with positive acts.”

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Putting Genetic Studies into Perspective

The genetics field has grown dramatically in recent years as we look to our DNA to explain our health and predict future diseases and disorders. At-home genetic testing kits are readily available and relatively affordable these days, though the tests may not live up to the hype and raise some ethical questions.

Beyond pursuing answers about our health, researchers, funders, and the public have grown increasingly interested in behavioral genetics, as we seek insight into cognition, intelligence, and personality. But don’t be too quick to buy into simple causal explanations about why you may have certain traits. For example, scientists argued in a New York Magazine article last year that Catechol-O-methyl transference may cause certain people to handle stress better than others. In our new briefing paper, “How Should We Be Thinking About Genetic Studies?” a number of experts note that the science is not that clear-cut:

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Dana Newsletter: June 2014

Below is the content that appeared in the latest Dana email newsletter. You can sign up to receive this (and other Dana email alerts and/or print publications) by going here.

Here are some stories recently posted on

One of a Kind: The Neurobiology of Individuality

by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D.

Mounting evidence suggests that brain circuits involved in our emotional responses change with experience and affect our temperament. It also suggests that psychological interventions can further harness brain plasticity to promote positive behavioral changes. From Cerebrum, our online magazine of ideas.

How Should We Be Thinking About Genetic Studies?

As the behavioral genetics field grows, we must be cautious not to oversimplify the research, warn experts, particularly in studies linking single genes to certain traits. A Dana briefing paper.

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