Five things we learnt as children about our bodies that are wrong

2015-08-04 21:06


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Johannesburg - We have been taught a lot of different things about our bodies by our schools, our parents and our friends.

A few of these things are completely wrong, and any drive to change assumptions we have had about our bodies for pretty much all of our lives will be met with resistance.

Science does provide proof that will dispel some pre-school lessons or old-wives tales that most of us have heard before.

Here are five myths about our bodies that have been debunked:

1) We have five senses

We all remember learning that we have five senses - sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch.

This is actually wrong, and dates back to Greek philosopher Aristotle. Even the idea that a "sixth sense" sometimes exists where people can "see dead people" is not scientifically possible.

Modern scientists argue that humans might have as many as 20 senses. Some of these senses include:

Thermoception - the ability to perceive heat or cold

Proprioception - the ability to tell where you body parts are in relation to other body parts. So when the police pull you over for drunk driving and tell you to close your eyes and touch your nose - they are basically testing if this sense is impaired.

Equilibrioception - the ability to keep your balance, and sense the movement of your body - the sensory system for this is in your inner ear. When you were a kid and spun around, or when you still do it on your office chair as a grown-up, the feeling that the world is still spinning after you stop - that is because of this sense. 

Time - It seems pretty obvious, but it is the hardest sense to pin down. We all measure time, through the sun, the moon, the hands of a clock and erosion (over a long time), but scientists have a hard time explaining what time itself actually is. What we do know, is that humans can sense that time is passing.

Where that gets even more complicated is when Albert Einstein's theories of relativity are involved, which say people perceive time differently. (see - 4 relatively easy ways to understand Einstein's theory of special relativity)

2) We have only four tastes

That tongue map we all remember of the regions of the tongue that have specific taste buds is wrong. So is the idea that the only tastes are sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

A few years ago scientists acknowledged a fifth taste, which was unique from salty, called umami. Our tongues have receptors for this savoury fifth taste.

In July, scientists at the Purdue University in the USA announced that they had discovered receptors on human tongues for a sixth taste, called oleogustus - or the taste of fat.

3) Humans only use 10% of their brains

A myth perpetuated by movies is that humans only use 10% of our brain, and the possibility exists for us to achieve superhuman intelligence by activating the other 90%.

Scans show that in fact most of our brains are active, and even when we sleep our brains are still active, but they are just in a different state.

Even slight brain damage could have disastrous consequences for a person, which goes to show that all of the brain is important. However, if the 10% theory is to be believed, you could remove huge chunks out of a person's brain without any noticeable difference.

So while the idea that a special pill or drug can unlock all the capabilities of the brain might sound like the answer to our nightmares about matric maths exams or the huge pile of work on your desk, we are all just left with having to study or work really hard.

4)  You will get sick if you go outside with wet hair, or without a jacket

We remember this refrain as children, but in actual fact wet hair or not having a jacket will not make you sick.

Cold weather, on the other hand, might make it harder for your body to fight an infection you might already have, or come into contact with, but the reality is that colds and the flu are caused by simply coming into contact with viruses.

Wet hair or a lack of jackets, in and of themselves, do not cause sicknesses.

5) Sugar will make kids hyperactive

Some exasperated parents will roll their eyes at this, but there is actually no scientific link between your child bouncing off the walls, and the stash of sweets they managed to stuff into their mouth.

A paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1995, which looked at 23 other studies about the effects of sugar on children, concluded that "the studies to date found that sugar does not affect the behaviour or cognitive performance of children".

It said the strong belief of parents that it makes their children hyperactive "may be due to expectancy and common association".

The researchers did, however, say that sugar affecting "subsets of children" could not be ruled out.

So the possibility exists that the expectation of parents that sugar will cause their child to be hyperactive, might either lead to them seeing their child's behaviour in a specific way or could in fact cause the child to behave in a hyperactive manner when they consume sugar.

Read more on:    science

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