I like these "top ten myths" kinds of stories, since I'm always interested in finding errors in my assumptions. From childhood, we hear so many things that seem to be accepted knowledge. But it's remarkable how many of them aren't actually true.
So here's The Smithsonian with the top ten myths about the brain. For example:
2. “Flashbulb memories” are precise, detailed and persistent.
We all have memories that feel as vivid and accurate as a snapshot, usually of some shocking, dramatic event—the assassination of President Kennedy, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the attacks of September 11, 2001. People remember exactly where they were, what they were doing, who they were with, what they saw or heard. But several clever experiments have tested people’s memory immediately after a tragedy and again several months or years later. The test subjects tend to be confident that their memories are accurate and say the flashbulb memories are more vivid than other memories. Vivid they may be, but the memories decay over time just as other memories do. People forget important details and add incorrect ones, with no awareness that they’re recreating a muddled scene in their minds rather than calling up a perfect, photographic reproduction.
Not that is something I'd always thought. Oh, I know perfectly well how unreliable our memories are and how easy it is to change them, or even invent brand-new, but completely false, memories out of whole cloth. Children are especially susceptible to this, but it's quite common even among adults.
But those "flashbulb memories" really seem accurate, don't they? It's hard to imagine that memories which are so vivid in our minds are also inaccurate.
I want to show you one other excerpt from this article, not because it's something I'd believed, but just because it's both important and interesting. (This isn't the entire myth, but just one paragraph in the explanation.)
Women are thought to outperform men on tests of empathy. They do—unless test subjects are told that men are particularly good at the test, in which case men perform as well as or better than women. The same pattern holds in reverse for tests of spatial reasoning. Whenever stereotypes are brought to mind, even by something as simple as asking test subjects to check a box next to their gender, sex differences are exaggerated. Women college students told that a test is something women usually do poorly on, do poorly. Women college students told that a test is something college students usually do well on, do well. Across countries—and across time—the more prevalent the belief is that men are better than women in math, the greater the difference in girls’ and boys’ math scores. And that’s not because girls in Iceland have more specialized brain hemispheres than do girls in Italy.
The thing to remember about myths like this is that our expectations matter. Even such a simple reminder of gender as checking a box on a test reminds women of the stereotypes. I'm sure this works the same way for racial minorities, too. When you expect to do poorly, you will. Even worse, you might not even try, because you expect the result that society has told you to expect.
Apparently, in some poor school districts, studying and trying to get good grades is "acting white." Yeah, that seems stupid to you and I, but if you don't think you can compete anyway, this is a way to dismiss the whole idea of school. Kids who say this are already convinced they can't do the work. They don't realize that effort is the biggest determination of success. Or else they just don't have faith in themselves.
And no, that's not restricted to racial minorities or to women. When I went to school, I could see it in many of my classmates. They weren't dumb, but they thought they were. And so they suffered from terrible test anxiety. And many of them wouldn't even try to learn, since they were so certain they'd fail.
It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. And that was even without contending with stereotypes, since most of them were boys and all were white. (The girls had their own problems, generally doing very well in school, but staying away from the advanced classes that prepared students for college. Well, back then, women were secretaries, waitresses, or wives and mothers. Women were supposed to help men succeed, rather than striving for success themselves.)
We can overcome these stereotypes. We can teach all children. We can make sure that all reach their full potential. But it will take work. It will take excellent teachers and committed parents (and when the parents aren't supportive, it will take even more work). And it will take money, lots of money.
But these days, all too many Americans don't value education. And we're not willing to pay taxes, since the right-wing has convinced us that government can't do anything right (ironically, that's just what the right-wing has demonstrated when they've held power). Weapons and prisons, that's about all we're willing to spend money on these days. Well, I guess we've become hopeless cowards, too.
But we'll never change unless we try. It's frustrating, it may even seem hopeless, but it's only hopeless if we quit trying. That's just as true for adults as for children.