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Should teachers challenge the way people learn?

The brain is amazing, but a lack of understanding has led to a variety of neuromyths that have negative consequences for learners

The brain is amazing and very complex, but our lack of understanding has led to a variety of neuromyths throughout the years that have the potential to have negative consequences for learners.

In 2014, academic Paul Howard-Jones wrote an article reflecting on neuromyths in education titled ‘Neuroscience and education: myths and messages’. It is interesting to reflect on his perspective some years on, because it reminds us of how enduring some of these neuromyths are – many of them are still prevalent today. It is worth unpacking his article and we highly recommend you take the time to read it.

Impacting teaching style

Firstly, Howard-Jones makes the point that potential misunderstandings of the brain and development impact the way educators approach their students. For example, he wrote:

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. (Howard-Jones, 2014, p.1)

Cultural conditions

Howard-Jones argued that myths thrive when cultural conditions help propagate myths — for example, when counter-evidence is difficult to access. Neuroscience findings are usually published in scientific journals. These can be expensive, and can also be difficult for non-scientists to understand and apply to alternative contexts.

There has been some progress in busting neuromyths. For example, as scientific knowledge about the brain has become more accessible, Howard-Jones outlined the way in which the following four areas associated with neuromyths were increasingly informed by increased clarity and understanding:

  • Early development and the enduring ‘myth of ‘three’
  • Difference and biological determinism
  • Engagement and dopamine mythology
  • Adolescence and brake failure

Better collaboration

Critical knowledge that has influenced these areas includes awareness of neuroplasticity — the role sleep, stress, and nutrition have in brain function — and the role of dopamine in learning and motivation. The way in which complex ideas are simplified in the attempt to promote knowledge has contributed to ongoing misinterpretation of many findings.

Howard-Jones ultimately called for “more interdisciplinary collaboration between neuroscience and education [which] 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” (2014, p.6).

More than half a decade later, it is clear how resistant some neuromyths are to challenge.

If you are an educator, this article reminds us of the importance of questioning and challenging information about the brain and the way people learn.


Howard-Jones, P. (2014). Neuroscience and education: myths and messages. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Advance Online. doi:10.1038/nrn3817. Available at:

© CQUniversity, 2020
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