Common Myths (or Truths) of Psychology
Listening to Mozart makes you smarter. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Left-brainers are good at logical reasoning, right-brainers are creative. We only use 10 percent of our brains. These are just four of the most common psychology myths. But is there any truth in them?
In a TED Talk, psychologist Ben Ambridge from the University of Liverpool debunks some of these and thus boosts our – what he calls –Psych-Q: our psychological intelligence. How good are you at predicting others‘ behaviour or even your own? And how much do you know about psychology?
Men are from Mars, women are from Venus? Men and women really differ in how far they can throw a ball. However, when looking at psychological differences it turns out that they are very small. Thus, men are better at spatial awareness than women, but the difference is very small: The average woman is better at it than 33 percent of men. The same applies to the difference in language and grammar. Women are slightly better on this ability, but the difference is about as small as the one for spatial awareness.
The Rorschach Ink Blot Test allows a valid assessment of one’s personality? Research shows that Rorschach Ink Blot tests have no validity when it comes to diagnosing one’s personality. A recent study showed that using this test Schizophrenia was diagnosed in one sixth of perfectly normal individuals.
There are different learning styles, visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic, that determine in which modality one learns best? Learning styles are not supported by science: When learners are given information to learn in their preferred vs. non-preferred style, there is no difference in the learning outcome. Rather, it seems that the best presentation format depends on what you are trying to learn.
The left hemisphere of the brain is the analytical, the right hemisphere the creative part of the brain and therefore left-handers are more creative? Nearly everything we do involves nearly all parts of the brain, even just having a normal conversation. However, there is a grain of truth in the left-brain-right-brain-myth and the idea that because of this left-handers are more creative. Ambidextrous people, that is, people who use both hands, are more creative because they use both sides of the brain – and being ambidextrous is more common amongst left-handers than amongst right-handers.
We only use ten percent of our brain? We don’t only use 10 percent of our brain, but what is true is that we could use it more efficiently.
Listening to Mozart makes us smarter? In a study researchers had people who liked Mozart or Stephen King stories listen to Mozart or Stephen King stories and found that those who liked Mozart got a bigger boost in IQ scores when listening to Mozart than those who liked Stephen King stories and the reverse. Thus, listening to something we like gives us a temporary IQ boost! But this is temporary and not a long-term effect.
Partner preferences vary across cultures? In a study that investigated partner preferences in various cultures around the globe researchers found that across all these cultures men place more value on physical attractiveness, whereas women placed more value on ambition and earning power. Moreover, men preferred women that were younger than them and women preferred men that were older than them.
Athletes such as football or basketball players have something like “can’t miss” phases? Hits and misses during games such as football or basketball follow a completely random pattern. Why we see “can’t miss” phases is because our brain attempts to find patterns. The only exception is penalty shoot-outs: Research shows that players of teams that are known to be not so strong in penalty shoot-outs shoot more quickly than players of teams who are known to be strong in this. Thus it is more likely that they miss.
Liars can be identifies by their speech pattern and body language? Research shows that it is not possible to identify a liar by their speech pattern and body language.
Finally: Psychology is just a collection of useful theories? It is a science that tests theories and researchers find out which of them are well-supported by data and which are not.
So it seems that there are quite a few myths out there and, well, as a psychologist you come across them quite often. So it is great that Ben Ambridge debunked a few of them. For those of you who are interested in more of these myths and whether or not there is a grain of truth in them we can recommend “50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior” by Scott O. Lilienfeld and his colleagues. What this means is: Whenever you come across a theory or so-called finding in psychology, always be sceptical. Some of these myths are presented in a very convincing manner and they make a lot of sense and seem to reflect our everyday experience. Here it is even more important to be critical. On the other hand, we are in a good position in the days of the internet: It is easy to research information. However, when trying to find out whether or not psychological theory is supported by empirical evidence do what we reported in our post on the Information Diet: Do not seek for information that confirms your belief, but seek for information that challenges it. Moreover, refer to credible sources such as peer-reviewed journals and, if possible, use first-hand information.
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