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Updated: Feb 20, 2022

Neuromyths are built on lack of context and misconceptions of the full validity of scientifically proven research and data. A desire and continual need to support CYP and find effective intervention and strategies can sometimes have negative consequences where this enthusiasm can lead educators to readily accept teaching practices and strategies that do not have the correct scientific basis in neuroscience or have not been tested within an educational context.

Pasquinelli (2012) argues that neuromyths are enhanced by “neurophilia” (whereby brain images or facts add persuasiveness to information) and a desire for an educational quick fix, leading to oversimplification and/or exaggeration of the original scientific research. It is therefore easier for educators to understand and implement without having to understand the full background of where the research came from or how it was produced.

How can Neuromyths impact the way we develop provisions and strategies? Using information that has been oversimplified and misinterpreted to plan educational interventions can deflect resources away from strategies with real educational value. They are, simply put, factually wrong and can ultimately undermine the impact of scientific research.

There are many examples of Neuromyths currently in place within our education system. A Neuromyth around those with a diagnosis of Dyslexia is that they ‘see words backwards’ or ‘see words jumbled up’ aka letter reversal. This was however only true for 10-15% of reading errors within a study in 1970’s by Liberman and in fact some dyslexic readers do reverse letters, but no more than other young learners. Having a simplified approach to Dyslexia can bypass the understanding of Dyslexia and neuromyths are often used to justify ineffective approaches to teaching.

Other themes that can be challenged as a neuromyths:

  • Children have different learning styles – There is insufficient studies to support the intuitive appeal. Young people may have favourable ways of learning, but all young people will have the ability and need to access different approaches to learning.

  • Right brain vs left brain - This typically translates into people thinking you are left-brained if you are rational and objective or right-brained if you are intuitive and creative. Researchers have found that neither hemisphere is solely responsible for one type of personality.

  • You only use 10% of your brain - We are able to examine the brain in better detail than ever before; there is no research to demonstrate we are only using 10%.

  • Mental capacity is hereditary and cannot be changed by environment or experience - Mental abilities do have a genetic component, but they are also heavily influenced by environmental factors, and rely on adequate experience in order to develop.

  • Listening to classical music increases children's reasoning ability - There is little consistent evidence that classical music (the so-called "Mozart effect") has an impact on children's reasoning ability at any age.

Misunderstanding about brain function and development also relates to teachers’ opinions on issues such as learning disorders and so, in turn, may influence the outcomes of students with these disorders. There can be a distance between neuroscience and education and there appears to be a bias that distorts communication along the way. This must then ask the question how can communication between science and education be improved in the future.

The OECD’s Brain and Learning Project (2002) investigated the prevalence of Neuromyths and the many misconceptions among teachers within the UK and the Netherlands. They redefined the term Neuromyth as a “misconception generated by a misunderstanding, a misreading or a misquoting of facts scientifically established (by brain research) to make a case for use of brain research in education and other contexts” (Understanding the Brain: Towards a New Learning Science. (OECD Publications, 2002)).

Language may also play a factor in relation to a separation between neuroscience evidence and non-specialists. Take the word ‘learning’…a study by Howard-Jones, P. A., Franey, L., Mashmoushi, R. & Liao, Y.-C, The Neuroscience Literacy of Trainee Teachers, asked trainee teachers whether a student could learn something without attending to it. 43% thought this was possible. It is possible that teachers interpret the word ‘attention’ (as in ‘paying attention’) as indicating a particular set of overt behaviours (for example, not talking, looking at the teacher, and so on) rather than as the allocation of cognitive processing resources.

The ‘language’ barrier will understandably always exist, but there are continual developments in recent years to narrow this through accessible literature and more effective, operational cpd training where educational staff can obtain the skill sets and a better understanding of neurological disorders which impact on learning without the need to understand or access scientific research.

More collaboration between neuroscience and education may help to identify and to address misunderstandings as they arise, and may help to develop concepts and messages that are both scientifically valid and educationally informative.

Educational neuroscience or neuroeducation, is an emerging scientific field that brings together researchers in cognitive neuroscience, developmental cognitive neuroscience, educational psychology, educational technology, education theory and other related disciplines to explore the interactions between biological processes and education. Researchers in educational neuroscience investigate the neural mechanisms of reading, numerical cognition, attention difficulties including dyslexia, dyscalculia and ADHD as they relate to education.

Further strength and interaction between neuroscience and education will not only inform educational approaches but also may encourage scientific insight regarding the relationship of neural processes to the complex behaviours that are observed in the classroom.

Richard Bell

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