Fact or Fiction: You Can Only Use 10 Percent of Your Brain

The belief that humans can only use 10 percent of their brain has been prevalent in society for decades. Find out if it’s fact or fiction.
Fact or Fiction: You Can Only Use 10 Percent of Your Brain
Fact or Fiction: You Can Only Use 10 Percent of Your Brain

Fact or Fiction: Intelligence is a key trait of humans. The ability to think and perceive is what separates us from other organisms. As such, it’s no surprise that the human brain is one of the most complex things in the world.

Even with the advent of modern technology, scientists haven’t been fully able to decode how the brain works. Due to a misunderstanding of the brain’s functioning and many inexplicable occurrences, there are several unfounded theories circulating in the world.

One widespread notion is that people can only use 10 percent of their brain in their lifetime. And only the smartest of the bunch, like Albert Einstein, can reach 10 percent of their brain potential. For common folks, the figure is even less. This belief has been widely perpetuated by movies and motivational books. But is there any truth to it? Today, we find out.

Read on to know whether the belief that humans can only use 10 percent of the brain is fact or fiction.

Origin of the '10 percent of the Brain' Theory

The belief that humans can only use 10 percent of the brain originated in the early 20th century. Harvard psychologist William James published an article in 1907 in Science magazine stating that people only use a small part of their mental and physical resources. However, the first person to put a number on this "small part" of the brain's potential was an American writer and broadcaster named Lowell Thomas.

The popular 1936 self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie included a foreword by Thomas and popularised the theory that people only use 10 percent of their mental ability. The book has sold over 15 million copies globally, has been in print for almost a century, and is mostly responsible for perpetuating this belief.

The 2014 movie Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman, also dealt with the subject and showed Johansson’s character gaining superhuman abilities of psychokinesis and telepathy after consuming a synthetic drug. The film Limitless, based on the 2002 novel The Dark Fields, had a similar premise as well.

Can humans Use More Than 10 percent of Their Brain?

There is little consensus on the functioning of the brain in the scientific community. However, most medical and science professionals agree on one thing: 10 percent of the brain potential theory is complete fiction.

At any given time, even during rest, almost all of your brain is active. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans of subjects have shown that all parts of the brain have specific functions, and while they may not all work at the same time, they are all used during different activities. Several scientific studies and even the popular Discovery Channel programme MythBusters have debunked the 10 percent brain use theory.

Arguments Against the '10 percent of the brain' Theory

  • The human body has been evolving for thousands of years, and there are barely any redundant body parts. Plus, the brain is the most energy-intensive organ in the body. If we only used 10 percent of our brains, our skulls would have shrunk over the years.
  • Brain scans like MRI and PET have demonstrated that except in the case of brain damage, almost all areas of the brain are active at the same time, some more than others.
  • Brain cells have a tendency to degenerate if left unused. If only 10 percent of the brain were used, the remaining 90 percent would degenerate. But that is not the case.
  • If 10 percent of the brain is used, then other areas should not be affected in cases of brain injuries. But as it turns out, almost all the parts of the brain are essential for proper functioning and can’t sustain damage without severe repercussions.


The human brain doesn’t use all of the brain at the same time, and each part has a specific function. But it’s completely false that you can only use 10 percent of the brain. We wouldn't be carrying a 1.4 kg organ on top of our heads if we could only use only 10 percent of it. Modern science has revealed that the all the undamaged areas of the brain are active to some degree.  And the people spreading pseudo-scientific beliefs about harnessing unused brain potential and unlocking hidden powers are plain frauds.

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