Neuromyths: Why do they still exist?
I came across this article which I believe is relevant to music education, as many myths abound relating to music and musicians. I think this is food for thought.
Neuro-education has been receiving a lot of attention in the research literature recently. Neuro-education is the connection between education and the science of the brain, and how they work and inform one another in learning. Several misconceptions about the brain, brain functioning, and links to education exist (Pasquinelli, 2012). Such misconceptions lead to concerns regarding applicability of some brain research to education, particularly where development of pedagogy is concerned. Research is about finding what is right and goes through a thorough process of scrutiny before being accepted as correct. The issue is when neuroscience is misinterpreted, misinformed, or under-developed, even though it is taken on board as educational policy, that neuro-myths arise and can be sustained despite their flawed development.
The “mozart” effect
One example of a persistent neuro-myth is the “Mozart effect” (Rauscher, Shaw, & Ky, 1993). The found that listening to Mozart improved adults’ spatial capacities and resulted in IQ increases of 8-9 points. Follow-up research has been unable to verify this claim and the original research has been debunked. However, the misconception still exists and raises concern regarding neuro-myths, though misinformed, are subsequently applied to education and a number of ways.
Neuro-myths are a distortion of scientific facts. Examples of this are the hemispheric specialization idea of left and right brain functions, and the Mozart effect. These neuro messages make it into main stream media and are seized upon as correct due to the public propensity for brain-based research known as neurophilia. Despite debunking by the scientific community, the myth, such as the Mozart Effect, still perpetuates albeit in a number of different forms. Playing the music of Mozart to babies and bananas is supposed to bring about an improved baby mind and improved growing of banana crops, though the research is inconclusive.
The persistence of neuro-myths is sustained by the prevailing cultural conditions, that is, the appetite for brain-based news. Neuro-myths persist in music and music education, most likely as a way to explain prodigiousness or talent, when in fact, the most important information related to musical achievement is omitted – that of effort, persistence, and resilience in the face of increasing challenge.
Furthermore, neuro-myths persist due not to the information available, but in many cases, the omission of critical information about how results are obtained, such as the statistical analysis conducted. This leads many laypersons into believing that the information presented before them is true and correct. Add an fMRI image with some regions of the brain highlighted in colour, serves to reinforce the myth.
The appetite for neuroscience has grown. Increased reporting of brain research in magazines and papers, and the development of projects based on brain research, is fueling the neurophilia age. An effect of neurophilia is the development of educational products and guidelines based on neuro-myths. It is concerning that neuro-myths are easily proliferated and established in educational settings, when at best, many of the brain-based research is too inconclusive to justify changes and development of educational tools and related pedagogies. Furthermore, educators can be far removed from expert researchers and access to competent advice regarding brain research, yet some educators accept neuro-myths as truths without questioning the research. Pasquinelli (2012) suggests that neuroscience and education are described as running parallel with one another, not yet operating together.
Pasquinelli (2012) suggests human minds have a need for confirmation bias. These myths help to serve and confirm biases and previous beliefs we hold. Once we have the information to confirm our bias, it is very difficult to reject these biases when new, contradictory information becomes available. These biases may also contribute to the misevaluation of the efficacy of methods and resources based on neuro-myths, further ingraining the myth.
The Mozart myth, the use of only 10% of our brain myth, the left and right brain hemisphere myths still exist despite evidence to the contrary.
Neuro-myths can have indirect, negative outcomes for education. Most of the practices surrounding neuro-myths, such as listening to Mozart before birth, are in fact harmless. It is when these neuro-myths are propelled at the expense of something which is known to be beneficial, is when the harm could be done. Neuro-myths are placebos at best. In education, the danger is attributing perceived or hypothetical learning gains to a neuro-myth, rather than developing a real and deep understanding of the learning processes involved.
Pasquinelli, E. (2012). Neuromyths: Why do they exist and persist? Mind, Brain, and Education, 6(2), 89-96.
Rauscher, F. H., Shaw, G. L., & Ky, K. N. (1993). Music and spatial task performance. Nature, 365(6447), 611.