Does the average person only use 10% of their brain capacity?

Lucy 2014 film posterThe new action-thriller Lucy features Scarlett Johansson whose character is kidnapped and forced to work as a drug mule for a gang operating in dystopic Taiwan. After being surgically implanted with a mysterious drug, the substance inadvertently leaks into her body before it can be removed. The drug transforms Lucy giving her new powers including telekinesis, eliminating all sensations of pain, and the ability to absorb knowledge instantaneously.

The release poster for ‘Lucy’ claims that “the average person uses 10% of their brain capacity”, which is a widely perpetuated urban legend. It is believed the myth emerged in the 1890’s, when William James, known as the father of American psychology, wrote in The Energies of Men: “We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.”

The 10% figure is associated with lack of knowledge about certain sections of the brain. Scientists for a long time did not know the purpose of the frontal lobe of the brain or areas of the parietal lobe, and damage to these areas did not result in motor or sensory deficits. They were deemed ‘silent areas’ of the brain and for some time their purpose remained illusive. Now we know that they are linked to functions such as  planning, motivation, attention, and language processing.

[Read more…]