Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers

Summary by Szilvia Fodor

“Learning occurs through modification of the brains’ neural connections.”

“Academic achievement can be affected by skipping breakfast.”

“Environments that are rich in stimulus improve the brains of pre-school children.”

“Children are less attentive after consuming sugary drinks and/or snacks.”

Do you agree with these statements? Are they correct or not? You can check it at the end of the article Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers by Dekker, Lee, Howard-Jones and Jolles (2012), in which they take a closer look at those misconceptions about the brain that exist among professionals in the field of education.

In her keynote lecture at the 18th International Conference of ECHA, Prof. Niamh Stack (Head of Department at the Department of Psychology, Mary Immaculate College, Ireland, professor of Developmental Psychology) emphasized that we must look holistically at the individual considering not just academic strengths/needs but also social and emotional well-being, however, we may not have yet fully succeeded in these holistic aims. She showed examples within neuroscience (eg. the studies of the above authors) that in spite of the very best of intentions, the application of theory to practice and the meeting of multidisciplinary perspectives can go astray, and she called for better bridges of communication between psychology, neuroscience and education to make these discussions and their implications for provision more than a sum of their parts.

This article from the Frontiers in Psychology is about a study that investigated the prevalence and predictors of neuromyths among teachers in some regions of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. A large observational survey design was used to assess general knowledge of the brain and neuromyths. The sample comprised 242 primary and secondary school teachers who were interested in the neuroscience of learning. It would be of concern if neuromyths were found in this sample, as these teachers may want to use these incorrect interpretations of neuroscience findings in their teaching practice. Participants completed an online survey containing 32 statements about the brain and its influence on learning, of which 15 were neuromyths. Results showed that on average, teachers believed 49% of the neuromyths, particularly myths related to commercialized educational programs. Around 70% of the general knowledge statements were answered correctly. Teachers who read popular science magazines achieved higher scores on general knowledge questions. More general knowledge also predicted an increased belief in neuromyths.

These findings suggest that teachers who are enthusiastic about the possible application of neuroscience findings in the classroom find it difficult to distinguish pseudoscience from scientific facts. Possessing greater general knowledge about the brain does not appear to protect teachers from believing in neuromyths. This demonstrates – in accordance with Prof. Stack’s main takeaway – the need for enhanced interdisciplinary communication to reduce such misunderstandings in the future and establish a successful collaboration between neuroscience and education.