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Get Neuro-Psyched!

Connecting the science of the brain, psychology, and health with EFL

May 11, 2010

Neuroscience and Psychology?

Get Neuro-Psyched! -A new column on ELT News-

The raison d'être:
What is this all about? This is a new column that will discuss important discoveries in neuroscience and psychology in concert with TEFL development. Some may ask, “What good would that do?” while some may say, “That’s exactly what I’ve been looking for!” In preparation for this column, I did an online survey in February. I received a total of 93 responses from English teachers from all over Japan. I wanted to find out how important neuroscience and psychology was for EFL teachers in Japan. Of the participants, 91% had at least 5 years of teaching experience, while 30% had over 15 years teaching experience. The majority were university teachers, but the group had a pretty wide spread. Admittedly, the total participant count was not over 100 (a holy number for some researchers), but the results were still worthy of at least some reckoning. How did it turn out? Let’s take a closer look!

Thirty-nine percent of the teachers responded that they regularly read up on psychology for integration into their teaching practices (another 24% regularly read up on neuroscience, and 18% regularly read up on health/biology). These numbers were considerably higher than I had expected. I had no idea that psychology was such a popular reading subject for EFL teachers in Japan. What do you think about these numbers? (please comment! [see below])

The teachers were also asked if they saw a need for stronger integration of (a) psychology, (b) neuroscience, and (c) health/biology into TEFL. Psychology scored a whopping 69% positive. Neuroscience was a strong 47% and health/biology was a respectable 31%. The final question was, “Would you be interested in following and/or participating in interdisciplinary studies that integrate at least one of the following into TEFL? (1) psychology, (2) neuroscience, (3) health/biology.” Amazingly, 63% responded yes to this.

I must admit that I was not expecting such highly positive results. I thought I would have to fight my way into this medium. I was up for a good fight –doing my pushups and all… Well, as it turns out, the majority of the teachers in the survey said TEFL actually needs more integration of psychology while roughly half said TEFL needs more integration of neuroscience. Neuroscience, I say. What a hip, progressive group we have here in Japan. Well, what are the implications of these high numbers? Is it a jump in logic to assume that teachers in Japan are looking to psychology and neuroscience for answers that they have yet to receive from standard TEFL studies and research avenues? If 63% of you want to get neuro-psyched, well, so be it!

I propose two goals for this column:

(1) Give teachers what they want – TEFL applicable neuroscience and psychology
(2) Dismantle as many neuro-myths as possible

I would like to respond to as many authentic questions as possible. To get the ball rolling, here are some popular questions that I have received during recent neuro-psych presentations: How does memory really work? How can we get our students to learn English more quickly? Is punishment ok? What do you think about grammar-translation from a neuroscience perspective? Does sleep matter? How do neurons work? Are there bad ways of raising motivation? What do you think about (name)’s theories? I wish to base many of my column entries on real questions from you. Send questions and comments to:, or respond below.

Neuro-myth Buster #1:
Do you remember being told that humans only use 10% of their brains? (or something along those lines?) This is one of the most diehard neuro-myths on the planet… and it is totally false! In our daily lives, we use our entire brains. The brain is very efficient; faulty neurons that we don’t use get pruned. If we really only used 10% of our brains, we’d be walking around with huge empty cavities upstairs. Think about it… we would literally be airheads! Neuro-myth BUSTED!!

Further reading:
Read up on the neuro-myth here, from the University of Washington:

Next column:
We will discuss how to better our learning and teaching by activating the major networks of the brain. Very practical knowledge coming soon! Look for it here June 15th.

Main | How to engage the major neuro-networks in your classrooms! »


Wow! The results from your survey are certainly surprising! It's nice to see that so many teachers are really interested in learning about learning!

Hello Ken,

Yes, I am very pleased with the results! Looking forward to receiving great questions from readers.

Interesting article! I'm looking forward to seeing you discuss the various myths that are out there.

Great column, Murphy! Plenty of food for thought, here.

"faulty neurons that we don’t use get pruned" - is this another way of saying 'Use it or lose it'?

Hi Nick,

That is a great question. In fact, it certainly deserves it's own article. I am at a neuroscience conference at Harvard all week, but when I am done I will prepare a special article targeting that specific question because it is a fascinating topic to discuss that naturally affects all of us -even the non-teachers! Hopefully I will be able to write it on the flight back to Japan!


I'd also be really interested to learn more about neurolinguistic studies done with EFL learners and examining learning outcomes :-)



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