Our Brains are Really Busy, Even When We’re Doing Nothing

It’s said that we human beings use only 10 percent of our brains. Butwhen we ‘re sitting around and “doing nothing,” our brains have a lot to occupy themselves with, as Claudia Hammond explains on BBC Future.

Brain scans reveal that, even when you’re doing “nothing,” your brain is very busy keeping you alive, controlling your breathing, heart rate and much more. Saying a few words or opening and closing your fist takes more than a tenth of the brain‘s power. Just keeping the brain itself going requires plenty of resources: Hammond cites cognitive neuroscientist Sergio Della Sala, according to whom keeping brain tissue alive requires 20 percent of the oxygen we breathe.

Studying the brain in a resting state could potentially tell us a lot about “which areas of the brain prefer to talk to which other areas, and how those patterns might differ in disease,” says the journal Nature. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans monitor blood flow and not the brain’s electrical activity directly and some researchers do question what they tell us. Combined with information from EEGs, fMRIs can provide a picture what’s actually going in our brains.

Indeed, study of the “idling brain can help us detect the early signs of Alzheimer’s; to understand how our brains use past experiences to make decisions in the present and to prepare itself for future events and tomaintain a ‘sense of self’ throughout the upheaval” as we age.

Our “Idling Brains” Are Still Hard At Work

Maurizio Corbetta at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis compares the activity of neurons in a resting state to that of a car idling: “If I have ongoing patterns that are guessing what’s going to happen next in my life, then I don’t have to compute everything.” By leaving a vehicle — that is, our brains — “on,” there’s no need to “restart the engine” as it’s already on.

The brain at rest is actually “running several models of the world in the background, ready for one of them to turn into reality,” says Andreas Kleinschmidt, director of research at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research’s Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit in Gif-sur-Yvette.

Especially fascinating to me is that study of resting-state networks in some autistic children have been found to be “hyper-connected” and show more links than for other children.My teenage autistic son Charlie takes a more time than most of us to “process” what is said to him — it can take several minutes, an hour, even a whole day to understand a new event or some new phrase said to him, perhaps because his brain spends more time in resting activity “working in the background”?

Why Are We So Prone To Believe Medical Myths?

The BBC ‘sHammond notes that one source of the myth that we only use 10 percent of our brain’s capacity may be that only 10 percent of the cells in our brains are neurons, the gray matter that makes thinking possible. The remaining 90 percent are the white matter, glial cells that could be called the “supports” for the neurons, for which they provide physical and nutritional help.

Perhaps our tendency to fall for and even believe medical myths such as that we only use 10 percent of our brains is a sign that we could all do well to make sure we’re actually using at least 10 percent!


Related Care2 Coverage

What the Beatles Can Teach Us About Our Brains

Sharks Have Brains Like Ours

Let’s Take a Walk! Exercise Is Good For Our Brains



Photo from Thinkstock


Jennifer U.
Jennifer A5 years ago

Our brains are so fascinating

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra5 years ago

Thank you Kristina, for Sharing this!

Ingo Schreiner
Ingo Schreiner5 years ago

brains brains brains

so good to have

Gozde Alp
Gozde Alp5 years ago

I love my brain..It's very hardwoking and smart:):)

Anna M.
A M5 years ago

The brain is incredible.

Abc D.
Past Member 5 years ago

Most of modern society encourages people to use no more than 10% of the brain. More, and better brain games may help the brain recover from oppression. Better nutrition, may also help the brain. Thanks to the brain stories, for helping to reveal that the brain is at all.

Mary L.
Mary L5 years ago

Thanks for the update. Always something new to learn.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran5 years ago


Stella Gamboni
Stella Gamboni5 years ago

No wonder I'm always tired!

a             y m.
g d c5 years ago