What Percentage of the Brain Do We Use?

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Practical Psychology

You’ve probably heard this phrase before: we only use 10% of our brains. That idea is either discouraging or encouraging depending on how you view it. It means you’re not doing as much as you could, or there is so much you could achieve if you only tap into that other 90%. No matter how you respond to this idea, don’t worry about it. It’s a total myth. 

What Percentage of the Brain Do We Use?  

Despite the myth that we only use 10% of our brains, there isn’t a part of our brains that we don’t use! Our brains take up a lot of energy for their small size, and we are constantly finding new ways to use our brains just by learning new information.

So don’t believe that old myth that we haven’t unlocked our full potential. There is no secret part of the brain that will make us fly or show us the path to a billion dollars. You are using your brain. As long as you keep it healthy and learn new things, you aren’t wasting anything. 

Why We Know We Use More Than 10% Of Our Brains 

Even without access to PET scans and MRI machines, the myth that we only use 10% of our brains can be debunked. Let’s look at some reasons why. 

Brain Damage 

We know that brain damage can seriously inhibit a person’s ability to perform basic functions, think critically, or complete other tasks. Brain injuries happen to all parts of the brain. If we only use 10% of our brains, then only 10% of brain injuries would actually make an impact. No two brain injury cases are the same, but a heck of a lot more than 10% of brain injuries have a serious impact.


If 90% of our brains were a useless mass of tissue, we probably would have gotten rid of it years ago. Humans don’t have tails because we don’t need them. (When was the last time you swung on a tree?) We don’t have fur because our subcutaneous layer of fat does a much better job of insulating the body (and makes us look better.) Evolutionary progress holds onto useful traits and discards things that we don’t need anymore. So why would we end up with a big, useless brain in our skulls? 

Scans of the Brain 

Of course, neuroscientists have also consulted various forms of technology to see what is going on in the brain at different times. What they found is pretty astounding - there is no part of our brain that doesn’t do anything. Nothing is just sitting around uselessly. Even cells that are not neurons have a role in brain functioning. Everyday activities even activate more than 10% of the brain at once. 

Activities that Engage Multiple Parts of the Brain 

One activity that lights up the brain is playing a musical instrument. Consider how much is going on when you play an instrument. Your eyes communicate information to the optic nerve about the sheet music and conductor in front of you. Ears communicate information about the sound of your instrument and those playing around you. (Your ears also work to keep you balanced as you sit or stand!) As this information goes to the brain, your brain must respond by communicating with the central and peripheral nervous systems. Your hands (and sometimes mouth or feet) work to play the instrument. It’s not an easy thing to do. Experts estimate that playing an instrument engages every major part of the central nervous system. Wow!

Where Did The 10% Myth Come From? 

So where does this myth come from? The answer is partially psychologists and partially people who use psychology to make a sale! 

William James 

William James is widely renowned as one of the earliest and most influential psychologists. He was one of the first people to introduce a psychology class to a university. In 1908, James wrote The Energies of Men. In that book, he said that “we are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.” 

Years later, Albert Einstein claimed that we used 10% of our brains. Or did he? There are plenty of Albert Einstein quotes that have been misattributed. (There are also a lot of misattributed quotes from Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and Thomas Edison.) This is likely one of them, as there isn’t any solid evidence that he made this claim. 

Self-Help Industry

This myth has stood the test of time because it sells! Self-help gurus and motivational speakers often use it as a tool to show that humans are not living up to their potential. But if you follow their programs or purchase their products, you can live up to your potential! There are many definite benefits to personal development and self-help courses, but none of them are going to change the fact that your brain uses what it uses, and it’s actually using most of the brain, most of the time. 

Think of it this way. Your legs aren’t always moving, your arms aren’t always moving, and your stomach isn’t always digesting food. Does that mean you only use a small portion of your body? No! Not every part of the brain is activated at once, but we are using all of our brains. (And our brains are always changing and using energy!) 

Our Brains Use More Energy Than Anything Else 

Here is just how much of our brain we are using at any given time. Our brains only account for 5% of our body mass - yet it uses 20% of our energy! That’s a lot of energy going into one small part of the body, but thank goodness it does! 

The brain uses energy to keep itself going and maintain its ability to send electrical signals when needed. Everything that we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch becomes an electrical signal that is sent to the brain so the information can be integrated and help us make decisions. Our brain is constantly passing back sodium and potassium ions to “keep that electricity on” and allow signals to move where they need to go. That takes up a lot of energy! 

Here’s another interesting fact about how we use our brains. Did you know that we use just as much energy when we are sleeping as when we are awake? As we sleep, the brain uses energy to maintain itself and restore the body. It has to send out many different signals as we move through the different stages of sleep. 

Want to Tap Into Your Potential? Keep Your Brain Healthy!

Through a process called neuroplasticity, our brains are always changing and growing. Even right now, your brain is sending signals throughout its entire structure and communicating with the body. Thanks, brain! 

The best way to ensure that you “use your potential” is to keep your brain healthy. Quick ways to maintain optimum brain health include: 

  • Doing puzzles
  • Exercising
  • Maintaining a healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin levels
  • Staying away from binge drinking or smoking
  • Wearing helmets when biking, climbing, or doing other dangerous physical activities
  • Lowering stress levels
  • Getting a healthy amount of sleep 

Care for your brain - you only have one, and you’re already using most of it!

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2022, April). What Percentage of the Brain Do We Use?. Retrieved from https://practicalpie.com/what-percentage-of-the-brain-do-we-use/.

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