Who hasn’t heard the statement that we only use 10 per cent of our brain? That listening to Mozart’s music makes you smarter or that most learning happens in the first three years of life? Or that a person who is “right-brained” is more creative? Another widespread idea is that we are either visual, auditory or kinesthetic (more sensitive to touch) and that we learn better according to these “styles.”
All these claims are in fact “neuromyths” — false beliefs about the brain and learning, none of which are scientifically based. In short, you are as likely to get a visit from the Tooth Fairy as you are to learn how to paint a sunset faster, supposedly because you are a “visual” person.
At the Cognitive Health Research Laboratory at Laurentian University, our research team is particularly interested in the neuromyths of learning styles called VAK, for visual, auditory, kinesthetic. Surveys conducted in 14 countries, including Canada, reveal that 90 per cent of teachers strongly believe that their students are visual, auditory or kinesthetic. And in an effort to meet their needs, these teachers adapt their teaching according to this mirage of individual differences, with visual students viewing pictures or diagrams, auditory students listening to sounds or speech and kinesthetic students manipulating objects.
At the root of the VAK neuromyth is the misconception that each brain develops differently and therefore that each child learns differently. Yes, it is true that from the 100 billion neurons that the brain has at birth, a unique network of synaptic connections develops. On the other hand, no, this development does not entirely individualize the brain to the point of predisposing it to better process information in a “dominant” sensory modality.