Every discipline of knowledge encompasses data that are curious in the eyes of the general public. Psychology It is, perhaps, one of those disciplines where curiosities abound, since there are countless legends regarding our behavior.
Psychological myths: putting black on white based on scientific data
Today we will review eight of them, eight psychological myths.
1. Detecting lies
There is a popular belief that there are several people with a superior ability to notice when they are in front of someone who is lying to them. Although the myth is not such, it must be said that an investigation carried out in the United States in 1999 discovered that those people who are more capable of detecting the lie of others had severe brain damage in the frontal lobe, in the left hemisphere.
These injuries cause a decrease in their linguistic abilities, a handicap that they compensate with a superior ability to scrutinize the non-verbal language of others, and thanks to this compensation they can better detect lies.
2. Subliminal messages: do they work?
It is popularly believed that subliminal messages (that we perceive unconsciously) can generate changes in our behavior, without even being aware that such changes have occurred; no control over them.
In 1957, the publicist James Vicary claimed to have shown that if certain subliminal messages such as “Eat Candy” or “Drink Coca-Cola” were projected on a screen, a greater demand for said products was generated, and therefore an increased sales. Nevertheless, no one from now on was able to corroborate these results, and the truth is that in 1962 James Vicary admitted to having manipulated the investigation.
3. Counting sheep against insomnia
The recommendation to count sheep as a remedy for insomnia was discredited in a 2002 investigation that took place at the University of Oxford, UK. It was concluded that that technique was not in any case effective. To reach this conclusion, the time required to fall asleep of two groups of subjects suffering from insomnia was compared. One group had to count sheep and the other did not.
No differences between groups were reported. Members of the sheep-counting group did complain of getting bored more, but that didn’t make them sleepy sooner. Something that does help to sleep, according to that study, is thinking of a scene that generates tranquility.
4. Cancer caused by bad mood
Certain diseases, such as cancer, have been linked to certain negative personal attitudes. Without going any further, it has been said on numerous occasions that those who tend to repress their emotions more may be more vulnerable to falling ill.
However, although showing a positive attitude towards the disease can indeed help to get out of it, it has not been shown that maintaining a negative attitude can cause the disease. What has been widely studied is that there is a certain relationship in the opposite direction: some research reveals that among working women, who report a light or moderate level of stress, the probability of getting breast cancer is lower than among women who do not present stress.
5. Classical music and intelligence
Have you ever heard that listening to classical music can increase intelligence? Or that making unborn babies listen to classical music helps them develop their intelligence.
This popular idea was born from a North American study in 1993, and it seemed to be confirmed in another study at the University of California ten years later. Despite these investigations, the University of Vienna recently carried out a more detailed and systematic study of the phenomenon, without having reported any increase in intelligence of those who listen to classical music.
6. We only use 10% of the brain
Perhaps one of the most recurrent myths is the one that states that we only use 10% of our brain. How the myth was born is not easily explained, but, possible it occurred in the nineteenth century when a well-known American psychologist expressed certain doubts about people reaching more than 10% of their intellectual potential. It likely arose as a misinterpretation of the knowledge of neurology from the beginning of the 20th century when science still believed that only 10% of neurons can be activated simultaneously.
Another possible explanation for the genesis of the myth is the idea that neurons only make up 10% of all brain cells since the rest are glial cells, which although they are necessary, their basic function is to offer energy support to neurons. In any case, the myth is false. The idea that large brain regions remain inactive is not based on any scientific premise, logical or evolutionary.
Brain tissue has a high cost in terms of energy consumption, since it consumes more than 20% of the oxygen we breathe, despite assuming no more than 3% of body weight, and it is far-fetched to think that the energy system and evolution they maintain an organ whose efficiency is 10%. If the myth were true, a brain injury in which area would not affect the operation of the mental processes of the person, which is uncertain.
If you want to delve into this myth, we recommend the article: “We only use 10% of the brain”: myth or reality? “
7. Infallible memory?
Regarding memory, it is popularly believed that the memories are a true reflection of what we lived in their day. We are not very capable of taking into account that our memory can distort the facts, or that it is unconsciously.
But the reality is that memory does not work as an audiovisual recording machine (player mode), but rather operates in a reconstructive way: that is, the final product (memory) is a mixture of some concrete details and others that are we have rebuilt based on our expectations, needs, beliefs, and emotions.
To deepen this question, we recommend the article: “Gordon H. Bower: memories are mediated by emotions”
8. Women speak louder than men
To finish, it is necessary to clarify another widespread myth that refers to a difference between men and women. Specifically, the myth is about which of the two sexes speaks more. If we ask a man the question, he is likely to answer that they speak much more than they do. But the truth is that several studies have revealed that, on average, both sexes use a similar number of words per day: about 16,000.
It is true, however, that they tend to express their emotions and thoughts more openly, apart from the fact that they can perceive non-verbal communication in a more precise way. It seems that there is also an explanation for the fact that the male sex considers that women speak more: apparently, the female voice has a longer intonation, a higher tone, and more complex inflections, factors that can irritate the man if he is exposed for a long time to female speech.