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Do Opposites really attract? Or Do we use 10% of our brains? These are some of the popular myths in psychology. In this article, we are going to debunk them and discuss what does science say about them.
The popular psychology industry has churned out various psychological myths about our personality, our minds, and our daily behavior. But they really are just myths and not backed by science. These myths get circulation by either movie, shows, radio program, and even self-help books.
Researchers call these myths psychomythology as it consists of urban legends and myths regarding psychology. The reason why should we know about these things is that separate fact from fiction. Acceptance of such myths can have harmful effects like stating and spreading false information. Blindly accepting things without fact-checking can also lead to a decline in critical thinking.
So, here are 10 of the most popular myths about psychology.
Myth 1: Most People Use Only 10% of Their Brain Power.
Now, this myth is probably one of the famous ones out there. It was particularly made famous by films like Limitless (2011) and Lucy (2014) in which it is shown that most of the people used 10% of the brain and with dramatic increase in usage you could either become the smartest person in the world or a god, which was the case in the latter. Spoiler alert, this is not the case.
This myth is not only popular among the people but also among college students studying psychology as around 59% of a sample from a college believed it to be true (Houzel, 2002). Researchers have argued that the myth originated from a self-help book, which talked about how you can improve your brain usage.
Studies have shown, with the help of advancement in technology, that is not the case as even simple tasks witness activity which is spread across the brain. With the help of brain-mapping technology, studies have shown that if we only used 10% of our brains then it would have been fatally catastrophic.
Myth 2: The Mozart Effect or How Listening to Mozart Makes Babies Intelligent
The Mozart effect is a term that was coined by Alfred Tomatis in 1991. It originated from a highly speculative research project which tried to link listening to compositions by Mozart and rise in IQ points. The original findings, which later were not replicated, showed signs of a slight increase of 2-3 points. But they got exaggerated by the media as companies started to cash in on this by selling Mozart Effect CDs for infants. Even though the research was done on adults!
The findings themselves were subject to scrutiny as many researchers tried to replicate it but came up with mixed results, Moreover, the research never revolved around infants. It was a myth created by the companies.
Myth 3: Human Memory is Like a Tape Recorder
Most of us believe that our memory records things incomplete details, like a camera or a tape recorder. But this is another commonly believed myth.
Studies have shown that our memories are not exact replicas of our past experiences. A consensus among psychologists is that human memory is not reproductive – it doesn’t replicate events precisely – but rather it is reconstructive. We recall what has happened and it’s usually a blurry mixture of our beliefs, biases, emotions, and hunches.
Myth no. 4: Intelligence Tests (IQ) are Biased against Certain Groups of People
IQ tests, the psychology community agrees, are not perfect and have certain flaws. But a certain myth originated around that if two groups score differently on the test, then it is biased. It is found in popular writings and is the most common critical take against IQ tests.
However, many researchers have studied IQ tests and they were biased towards minorities or against women. In 1996, two task force was assembled to test these claims. These studies found that there is no merit to the argument that tests like SATs, and other IQ tests are biased. But it is important to understand the different scores, especially of minority groups and women, and caused behind them, which is separate from the IQ tests. These differences could be because of various factors but by calling IQ tests biased is neglecting those differences and working on them.
Myth no. 5: Our Dreams have Symbolic Meaning
One of the most popular myths associated with Psychology, especially with Freud, is that our dreams have symbolic meaning and one can interpret them. In fact, throughout the world people, across different cultures, believe that our dreams have hidden truths in them.
However, the contemporary scientific community rejects this idea and argue that dreams are anything but symbolic. Researchers have argued that before entering REM (Rapid Eye Movement) phase of our sleep, dreams just mirror our everyday activities and concerns that occupy our minds like studying for exams or paying our taxes.
During the REM phase, our brains produce, what Hobson calls, a “dramatic symphony” which is often illogical. Hobson’s theory called activation-synthesis theory has garnered enough scientific support and is also called Anti-Freud theory.
Myth no. 6: Opposites Attract
One of the most popular understandings people have is that we are attracted to people who have opposite personalities, beliefs, and understandings. This notion has been propagated via movies, shows, and novels. The technical term which is used for this is ‘complementarity’.
However, research has shown, that when it comes to interpersonal relationships, opposites do not attract. Rather, homophily, (a fancy term that researchers use) similar people attract each other, is the norm rather than the exception. Studies have shown that people are more likely to be attracted to people who have similar views and opinions. People in relationships having similar views and opinions signify signs of compatibility and stability.
Myth no. 7: There’s Safety in Numbers
Imagine two scenarios. In scenario 1, you are walking along the street and are about to be robbed and only see one bystander there. In scenario 2, there are people all around and the same event is happening. Who would you feel safer in? If your answer is scenario 2, then you may be the exception. As most of the research suggests that you’d probably be safer in scenario 1 and there’s danger rather than safety in numbers. But how?
Researchers give two reasons for this. First, is the pluralistic ignorance which basically means a bystander has to recognize that an emergency is actually an emergency. If you see other people not feeling concerned over an issue then you would probably feel that it’s not a serious issue. The second reason is what they call the diffusion of responsibility. It means when there are more people present, the fewer people would feel individually responsible in that situation.
Myth no. 8: Our Handwriting Tells Us About Our Personality
Another myth prevalent is that our handwriting tells us about our personality. There is actually a field devoted to this called Graphology. Researchers, however, have argued that its mere pseudoscience and does not hold any ground. The scientific tests have revealed that graphologists fall under the trap of the P.T. Barnum effect, as mentioned earlier in another article.
Myth no. 9: Psychiatric and Criminal Activities Increase During Full Moons
The fixation with full moons has been a thing with various authors of literature. The various supernatural phenomenon in fiction is linked with full moons like from the werewolf lore. But the obsession with full moons is not restricted to fantasy as various authors have linked with real-life events. Some have linked the full moon with rising in criminal activities, drinking, and lewd behavior, even increase in dog bites!
These authors call it the Lunar Effect or the ‘Transylvania Effect’, and it is deeply embedded in popular culture. Proponents of the Lunar effect argue since full moon leads to rise in tides. And since humans are made up of four-fifths of water, then it is plausible that it has an effect on us too.
But researchers argue that this does not hold any water (pun very much intended!). Researchers did a thorough meta-analytic study to see if there’s a link and found no evidence of the lunar effect being a reality. They call this association illusory correlation, which is the false perception of an association between events where no such association exists. Its what they call a statistical mirage.
Myth no. 10: Most Mentally Ill People Are Violent
This myth’s origin lies in popular culture as various films portray people with mental illness being violent. Movies and shows portray them as ‘psychopathic killers’ having ‘homicidal tendencies.
But actual research suggests that around 90% of people with serious mental illness, including schizophrenia, don’t commit violent acts. Moreover, severe mental illness accounts for around 3-5% of all violent crimes.
So, there you have it. Ten psychomyths busted for you. So the next time someone says that the opposites attract or there’s safety in numbers, you tell them actually it does not! We’ll find more psychomyths to bust in another article. Till then, cheers and keep exploring yourself with Brainpundits.