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Neuromyths in schools

Janet Law

In recent years, much interest has been focused on the application of neuroscience in daily lessons and pedagogies (Canbulat & Kiriktas, 2017; Dekker et al., 2012). As a result, the new concept of ‘neuromyths’ has emerged in response to the misuse and misunderstanding of research results in the implementation of neuroscience research in school settings (Goswami, 2006).

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation, and Development, neuromyths implicate the ‘misuse of neuroscience research in daily teaching and learning’ (p. 69). There are arguments that it does not matter whether neuromyths are prevalent in education or not because they can work as ‘useful fiction’ in practice (Kim & Sankey, 2018, p.1222). For instance, teachers may agree that different children receive information differently, namely visually, auditorily or kinaesthetically (VAK) (Dekker et al., 2012). Research conducted by Vaishnav and Chirayu (2013) reveals that if children were taught with the preferred learning style, their learning could be improved. However, according to Dekker et al. (2012) and Gilmore et al. (2007), this statement is incorrect as the brain is highly connected and more than one sensory system is involved when processing information.

Furthermore, there is another neuromyth known as the ‘Mozart effect’, a concept that first appeared in the United States, where laws have been passed to provide parents of infants with CDs of classical music and infants in nurseries are required to listen to this music (Beauvais, 2015). Studies claimed that college students scored eight to nine points higher on a spatial IQ test and also stated that spatial skills can be increased after listening to a Mozart piano sonata (Rauscher et al., 1993, 1995). However, the Mozart effect remains problematic as there is no evidence that skills can be learned without repetition (Waterhouse, 2006).

There is possibly a negative impact when teaching students with unsupported strategies such as VAK learning styles (Dinham, 2016). It might lead to labelling and stereotyping students that they can only study certain subjects and pursue a specific career according to the VAK learning style (Newton & Salvi, 2020). For instance, a student who has been labelled as an auditory learner may think that it is pointless for him or her to work as an artist because it is related to a visual learning style (Newton & Salvi, 2020).

‘Unsupported strategies such as the use of visual, auditory or kinaesthetic (VAK) learning styles might lead to labelling and stereotyping students that they can only study certain subjects and pursue a specific career according to the VAK learning style.’

It has been suggested that educational psychologists can try to address neuromyths with teachers, by suggesting and supporting teachers in the use of other learning style frameworks (Craig et al., 2020). For instance, ‘learning to learn’ interventions (Sitzmann & Ely, 2011), which focus on ‘self-regulation of learning’ (Papadatou-Pastou et al., 2021, p. 526). However, since teachers might be accustomed to neuromyths, they may not have adequate knowledge and will need support to shift to another framework (Craig et al., 2020).

Training is needed which helps teachers to develop the skills in critically evaluating studies before applying the findings in class (Howard-Jones, 2009). For example, a university course in educational psychology may help increase individuals’ exposure to neuroscientific data and reduce possibilities of believing in neuromyths (Macdonald et al., 2017). Lastly, opportunities should be offered to teachers to work cooperatively with researchers so that teachers will be able to master the skills of examining, collecting evidence and thinking critically before incorporating any neuroscience research result into their lessons (van Dijk & Lane, 2020; Howard-Jones et al., 2009).


References

Beauvais, C. (2015). The ‘Mozart effect’: A sociological reappraisal. Cultural Sociology, 9(2), 185–202. https://doi.org/10.1177/1749975514557096

Canbulat, T., & Kiriktas, H. (2017). Assessment of educational neuromyths among teachers and teacher candidates. Journal of Education and Learning, 6(2), 326–333. https://doi.org/10.5539/jel.v6n2p326

Craig, H. L., Wilcoz, G., & Makarenko, E. M. (2020). Continued educational neuromyth belief in pre- and in-service teachers: A call for de-implementation action for school psychologists. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 36(2). https://doi.org/10.1177/0829573520979605

Dekker, S., Lee, N. C., Howard-Jones, P., & Jolles, J. (2012). Neuromyths in education: Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions among teachers. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 429. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00429

Dinham, S. (2016). Leading learning and teaching. ACER Press.

Gilmore, C. K., McCarthy, S. E., & Spelke, E. S. (2007). Symbolic arithmetic knowledge without instruction. Nature, 447(7144), 589–591. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05850

Goswami, U. (2006). Neuroscience and education: From research to practice? Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7(5), 406–413. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn1907

Howard-Jones, P. A. (2009). Scepticism is not enough. Cortex, 45(4), 550. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2008.06.002

Kim, M., & Sankey, D. (2018). Philosophy, neuroscience and pre-service teachers’ beliefs in neuromyths: A call for remedial action. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 50(13), 1214–1227. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2017.1395736

Macdonald, K., Germine, L., Anderson, A., Christodoulou, J., & McGrath, L. M. (2017). Dispelling the myth: Training in education or neuroscience decreases but does not eliminate beliefs in neuromyths. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1314. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01314

Newton, P. M., & Salvi, A. (2020). How common is belief in the learning styles neuromyth, and does it matter? A pragmatic systematic review. Frontiers in Education, 5, 602451. https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2020.602451

Papadatou-Pastou, M., Touloumakos, A. K., Koutouveli, C., & Barrable, A. (2021). The learning styles neuromyth: When the same term means different things to different teachers. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 36, 511–531. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-020-00485-2

Rauscher, F. H., Shaw, G. L., & Ky, K. N. (1993). Music and spatial task performance. Nature, 365(6447), 611–611. https://doi.org/10.1038/365611a0

Rauscher, F. H., Shaw, G. L., & Ky, K. N. (1995). Listening to Mozart enhances spatial-temporal reasoning: Towards a neurophysiological basis. Neuroscience Letters, 185(1), 44–47. https://doi.org/10.1016/0304-3940(94)11221-4

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Vaishnav, R. S., & Chirayu, K. C. (2013). Learning style and academic achievement of secondary school students. Voice of Research, 1(4). http://www.voiceofresearch.org/doc/mar-2013/Mar-2013_1.pdf

van Dijk, W., & Lane, H. B. (2020). The brain and the US education system: Perpetuation of neuromyths. Exceptionality, 28(1), 16–29. https://doi.org/10.1080/09362835.2018.1480954

Waterhouse, L. (2006). Multiple intelligences, the Mozart effect, and emotional intelligence: A critical review. Educational Psychologist, 41(4), 207–225. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15326985ep4104_1