20 Psychology Myths

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Published: 25-12-2018

Last modified: 02-03-2021

In society, many myths concerning various branches of psychology are commonplace. I would like to refute some of them and pass on knowledge in line with scientific research. You will also find out where some myths come from and why they are so popular.

1. Women speak more than men

The fact that women speak more than men is obvious to many people. This motif also often appears in jokes. In fact, there is no difference between genders in talkative. Research, in which nearly 400 people carried dictaphones with them for several days, showed that both men and women say an average of 16,000 words a day(1). There was also a lot of research on differences between the sexes in the frequency of talking about personal matters. The analysis of 205 studies on this subject (the so-called meta-analysis, or aggregate analysis, in which data from all studies are taken into account together, as if it were one large study) showed that in fact women are a little more open, but the difference is really small (2).

2. Domination of the left or right hemisphere

In many popular sources you can find information that in some people dominates the left hemisphere of the brain, and in other people the right. The left hemisphere is often presented as “logical”, “rational”, and the right as “intuitive”, “creative”. You can also find information that in men dominates the left hemisphere of the brain, and in women the right brain. All this is not true.

First, the hemispheres of the brain do not differ in what they do, but how they do it. To say that a left hemisphere or right is responsible for a certain activity is a great simplification. In fact, most tasks are performed by both hemispheres of the brain, communicating with each other, only one hemisphere is usually better in a given task. For example, in the case of language functions, the left hemisphere deals more with grammar and vocabulary than the right and the right hemisphere with more intonation and accentuation than the left one (3).

Secondly, the fact that someone is good, for example in grammar and that the left hemisphere dominates the right one when it comes to using grammar, does not mean that in the person “dominates the left hemisphere”. In one study (4), it was checked which hemisphere dominated in men and women when recognizing emotions from the face. It has been shown that in both women and men dominates the right hemisphere, but in men this dominance is more visible, that is, there is a greater difference in them – asymmetry – between the action of both hemispheres while recognizing emotions from the face. Based on these studies, it can be concluded that women have better abilities to recognize facial emotions correctly because both hemispheres communicate more effectively with each other during this operation.

Thirdly, if we are already generalizing, what the left hemisphere of the brain deals with, and what the right one, one can say that the left focuses more on the details and the right more on the general. In a study in which volunteers had the task to read letters composed of other letters (eg the letters F were arranged in the shape of a capital S) showed that if the subjects focused on these lowercase letters (F from this example), tthe centers in the left hemisphere of the brain were more active, and when they focused on a large letter (here S), the right hemisphere was more active (3).

3. Repressed memories

The possibility of repressing traumatic memories that, although not remembered, affect the functioning of man, is the concept of Freud, which was very widespread in the USA in the 1970s and 1980s. It started with feminists who began to raise the problem of sexual harassment. During group meetings, some women admitted that they were in the past molested and that this affects their current functioning. After some time, some therapists said that since many women have problems because of being sexually abused in the past, it can be assumed that all women’s problems stem from the fact of being molested, and if they do not remember, it is because they have repressed these memories. Many repressed traumatic memories began to be suggested to many women. If the suggestion “did not help” in extracting repressed memories, hypnosis was used, believing that if a hypnotized man remembered something, it was certainly true. And in fact – many people during the therapy “remembered” about being molested in the past. Some also “remembered” such traumatic memories as participation in satanic rituals, eating human bodies, and having sex with animals. As a result of the testimonies of people who “managed to unlock repressed memories”, many innocent people were sentenced. Fortunately, after some time the information about the possibility of implanting false memories was widespread. Many people, after understanding that their memories are false, withdrew their testimony, sue psychotherapists and some of them received millions of compensation. Everything turned out well, but still many people believe in the possibility of regaining repressed traumatic memories. However, not everyone knows how easy it is to “unlock” false memories. In several studies, participants were presented with various stories from their lives and asked if they remember the events. Earlier, the close family of the subjects were asked about various events from their childhood and among the stories there were both real events and those that did not take place at all, for example that at the age of 5 they got lost in the shopping center. In all such studies, about 20-30% of respondents claimed that they also remember those events that did not take place at all. These people were asked only one question and these were people without obvious mental problems. During psychotherapy in the United States, patients were often suggested to have repressed memories during many sessions and people with problems who wanted to find out the source of their problems took part in them. It is not surprising that so many patients “remembered” what the psychotherapist persuaded them with stubbornness.

And is it really possible not to remember traumatic memories? According to current neurobiological knowledge, theoretically yes. In memorizing the amygdala is involved, which is responsible for emotional memories, ie implicit memory and hippocampus, which participates in the conscious memorizing of the course of events. Under stress, hormones are released that enhance processes dependent on the amygdala and inhibit processes dependent on the hippocampus. Theoretically, it is possible to remember only the emotional significance of the event and it will affect our functioning, although we will not knowingly remember what happened. According to this model, however, it is not possible to remember such events, because we have not denied them from memory, we just did not remember them.

4. We communicate in 55% with body language, 38% with voice and 7% with words

The popularity of this myth is very puzzling to me, because it is enough to think for a moment that it is nonsense. If it were true, people using other languages could understand each other thanks to gestures and voice sounds in 93% and when reading a text in their own language, we would understand only 7% of it …

This myth comes from research carried out in the 1960s in the USA (5). In this study, three pictures of the same person’s face were presented (smiling, neutral or sad) and three groups of words were spoken (positive, neutral or negative) with a positive, neutral or negative tone. Different combinations of inconsistent messages were presented to the respondents (eg a sad face was shown and a positive word was spoken in a neutral tone, or a neutral face was shown and a negative word was pronounced with a positive tone of voice, etc.) and asked to what extent they liked the person being shown. The study was to check what determines the perceived level of liking somebody and researchers calculated that in 55% the facial expressions are responsible, in 38% the tone of the voice and only in 7% the words. On the basis of the research, it can be concluded that in the situation of an incoherent message, i.e. if someone has, for example, a sad face and at the same time says that he is happy, we will be more likely to believe his face than words. And that’s it. Someone, probably some journalist with no idea about psychology, the results of the research reinterpreted and news went into the world ;) And what’s more, these tests were carried out on only 75 people, which is quite a small trial and I did not find other similar tests, so you have to be careful about the results.

5. Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic Learners

The division of people into Visual Learners, Auditory Learners and Kinesthetic Learners is used by NLP (neurolinguistic programming) and very widespread in society. This is the so-called VAK model (from the words visual, auditory, kinesthethic). In the USA, the VARK model is also widespread (visual, auditory, reading / writing, kinesthethic). Visual Learners learn reportedly best by viewing diagrams, charts, Auditory Learners through listening, Reading / Writing Learners through reading and writing, and Kinesthethic Learners by experiencing and touching. However, scientific research on both the VAK and VARK models does not confirm that we learn best when the way we transfer knowledge is consistent with our learning style. (6)(7)

Nor is it true that the most people are Visual Learners. In two studies (8)(9) on the VARK model, only 36% preferred one style of obtaining information. Most students use at least two different styles depending on the type of material or joins styles. These studies also indicated that about 20% of students are Kinesthetic Learners, and those who use only sight during the study, only hearing, or just reading and writing is only a few percent.

6. We use only 10% of the brain

This myth may have arisen from the words of the well-known psychologist William James, who lived at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, who said that most people probably use only 10% of their intellectual potential. He did not, however, support it with any research, it was just his thought, and besides, he did not use the word “brain” but “intellectual potential”. My guess is that he meant that most people could be more intelligent than they were if they used their innate learning potential more.

The fact of using only 10% of the brain can not be real for several reasons:
– First, it is unlikely in evolutionary terms that we could have an organ that uses so much oxygen that we inhale, if we only used it in 10%.
– Secondly, during the electrostimulation of the brain, no areas were found which, stimulated, would not cause any sensations. Also other brain testing methods (EEG, PET, fMRI) show that every area of the brain is used in some processes.
– Thirdly, it is known that areas not used due to disease or injuries disappear or are occupied by neighboring areas. There are no unused brain cells. Either they are used or they are not there :)

7. Subliminal stimuli and their impact on our behavior

In the 1950s, James Vicary, a marketing specialist, announced that he had made a research at the cinema, where during film shows he displayed slogans encouraging the purchase of popcorn and Coca-Cola for 1/3000 seconds. Although the slogans were displayed for such a small fraction of a second that the viewers could not see anything, according to the results of his research, the sales of these products increased significantly. His research, however, was not published in any scientific journal, many psychologists from the beginning were very skeptical about the results, and some tried to repeat his research, but no one achieved such results. Eventually, after several years, Vicary admitted that the entire study had been invented by him, and his goal was to recommend his marketing agency. The information about the possibility of influencing our behavior by means of subliminal stimuli unnoticeable by us has already become widespread.

And in a certain way, this is true, but only in a certain way… In one study (10) students were asked to present ideas for research projects, and then for a moment they were shown the smiling face of a friend or the angry face of their boss. Those who were shown an angry face, then assessed their project worse. In another study (11), fragments of different words were presented, e.g. “gui __” and respondents were asked to complete them. Those who were previously subliminally displayed the words “lead”, “escort”, etc. more often entered the word “guide”, and those who were shown “cheating”, “betrayal” etc., more often ended the word as “guile”. However, in all studies showing some influence of subliminal stimuli, these stimuli were displayed long enough for the respondents to be able to see them, i.e. the threshold of simple detection was exceeded, but the threshold of recognition was not exceeded. For example, the respondents saw that they were shown a word but were not able to consciously read it. If the stimulus is displayed for such a short period of time that even the sight is not able to register it, it will not affect man in any way.

8. The blind have a better developed hearing and touch

This is not true, most blind people have hearing and touch as well developed as most sighted people. Some blind people are able to “read” more from what they hear and others less, and some blind people are better off reading Braille, while others are worse. Blind people simply pay more attention to what they hear and touch than sighted people, and that’s why some of them have more skills in this area than sighted people. This is not due to the fact that they have a biologically more sensitive hearing and touch. The sighted person could also learn, for example, reading Braille, if he spend on it so much time as blind people do.

9. Mozart effect

The Mozart effect, i.e. the improvement of intelligence as a result of listening to his music, arose as a result of research published in 1993 in the prestigious journal Nature (12). In this study, students listened to Mozart’s music, relaxation music or silence, and then researchers checked whether their spatial reasoning skills had changed (their task was to cut and fold pages). The greatest improvement was noted among people who had previously listened to Mozart and according to the calculations of researchers, the increase in their abilities equaled approx. 8-9 IQ points.

The results of the research, as it often happens, has been reinterpreted, and on the basis of individual studies on students who cut and folded pages someone inferred that if the babies and even fetus will listen Mozart’s music, they will be more intelligent.

Not only did this study not test general intelligence only for specific ability and it was carried out on adults, so you can not generalize its results to small children as it was done, yet further studies on this subject do not confirm that the improvement is so clear. A meta-analysis of the study of the Mozart effect indicates that the increase in spatial abilities can equal a maximum of 2 IQ points, not as much as 8-9, as demonstrated in the first studies and this increase is visible to a maximum of one hour after listening to music (13)(14). Research also indicates that not only Mozart has such a positive impact. In a study in which volunteers listened to Stephen King’s novel, Mozart’s music or did not listen to anything, better results were obtained by both those who listened to the novel and those who listened to Mozart, and the best results had those who listened to what they wanted to listen (15).

10. Lie detectors

Lie detectors, despite the name, do not detect lies, only certain physiological responses. They measure skin conduction, blood pressure and breathing, and on this basis, the person interpreting its indications is able to determine whether the respondent was nervous or not when answering questions. The fact of being nervous does not always mean a lie. Nervousness can cause, for example, indignation with an unjust accusation; awareness that criminal responsibility will be decided not by answers, but by reactions to questions or the very unpleasant thought of the incident that initiated the investigation. There are also people who can lie without changing their physiological response, so a lie detector can give false positives – an innocent accusation or a false negative – a liar’s failure.

11. Psychological profiles of criminals

Specialists from psychological profiles of criminals claim that they can determine their sex, age, personality, education and other data based on the criminal’s way of acting, but in reality they can not. It is true that some of the data provided by such specialists are true, but not because they inferred from the data from the crime scene. First of all, people involved in creating criminal profiles use police statistics. For example, in the US 75% of serial killers are white men and on this basis “specialist” is able to determine with a high probability that the wanted serial killer is also a white man. Secondly, such specialists often provide obvious information. You do not need to have a special education to find out that someone who murdered his family probably has problems with self-control. Thirdly, they often use generics, such as “have problems with self-esteem.”. There are few people who have adequate self-esteem in every situation, almost everyone sometimes understands or overestimates it, so such a statement can be attributed to almost everyone.

Most studies that compared the accuracy of profiles created by professionals and people not related to psychology at all show that professionals are only slightly better than “amateurs”, and some studies have shown that even worse (16)(17)(18). This minimal advantage, which occurs in most studies, probably results from the fact that professionals know crime statistics.

The fact that many people associated with crime detection believe in the skills of people creating psychological profiles of criminals can result from the same mechanism that makes many people believe in horoscopes. Horoscopes also use the obviousness and generalities that can be attributed to almost everyone, so it may seem they work well.

12. It’s safer in the crowd

If you think that if something happens to you in the city center, someone will help you, you are wrong. The Bystander Effect, also known as the diffusion of responsibility, explains that it will probably take a long time before someone gives you help. The following video presents research on this topic:

Similar tests were also done in the laboratory. In one such study (19), volunteers filled out questionnaires sitting in the room alone or in twos. There was an open door to the next room and the subjects saw that a person was climbing a ladder there. After a while, they heard someone falling off the ladder and shouting that he could not move. Of those who filled out the questionnaires by themselves, 70% immediately helped, while for those who filled in pairs, one of them helped in only 40% of cases.

People usually do not help when they see that others do not do it, thinking that “someone else can do it”, “others do nothing, so why should I do it”? Fortunately, research also indicates (20), that knowledge about the existence of the bystander effect significantly increases the likelihood that such a person will help. Someone who knows that others will not do something, is aware that he must take appropriate action himself.

13. Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome

Persons who grew up in a family where at least one of the parents was an alcoholic, according to the information about the Adult Children of Alcoholics syndrome, are often characterized by low self-esteem, feelings of shame or guilt, tendency to take too much responsibility for others, and sometimes they do not feel responsible, they have too high a need for approval, an excessively developed sense of loyalty, a feeling of helplessness and difficulty in managing the impulses. Research does not confirm, however, that such traits really are typical for adult children of alcoholics. According to studies (21), people who had a father or mother, or both parents of alcoholics, are statistically a little more nervous, sociable and willing to take risks.

The prevalence of the Adult Children of Alcoholics syndrome is probably due to the fact that the traits that supposedly describe a typical adult child of an alcoholic are generalities that are easily attributable to everyone. A person who has some problems in life and looks for the causes of these problems, and at the same time had an alcoholic parent, when reads these features, often states that most of them fit into his/her. He/she feels relieved, because finally “found out” why he/she is not succesful his/her life – all because he/she is an Adult Child of an Alcoholic. In reality, however, his/her problems may arise from a completely different reason, not connected with childhood at all.

Studies (22) have been carried out in which persons with at least one alcoholic parent and persons who do not have such a parent were to respond to various statements. Some of these statements belonged to those that supposedly refer to the Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome (eg “in times of crisis I usually care for others”, “I am sensitive to the problems of others”) and some were non-syndrom general statements (eg “I have a great sense of humor “,” I do not mind diversity and changes and see them as challenges “). Of course, the subjects were not told which features describe the syndrom and which do not. It turned out that in fact many people who grew up in a family with alcoholism identified with statements describing the syndrome of the Adult Children of Alcoholics. However, they also identified themselves with statements that do not describe this syndrome. And the same, people who did not grow up at home with alcoholism identified themselves with both the statements describing the syndrome and those that do not describe this syndrome. There were no differences between these two groups of people.

14. It’s better to unload an anger than to suppress

Some time ago someone came up with it the idea, that the best way to get rid of anger is to unload it. Even therapies were created, based on unloading anger. Below you can see photos from such “destruction therapy” in Spain.




Unfortunately, research indicates that this is not an effective way to get rid of anger. In one study (23) volunteers were divided into two groups. One of the groups read the text saying that aggressive behavior is an effective way to calm down and the other that is ineffective. Then, all participants of the study were asked to write an essay on abortion. No matter what they wrote, everyone heard from the person evaluating the text that this is one of the worst jobs he has ever read. Then the subjects were able to unload the anger on the training bag, and then they were asked to describe what they felt for the person who assessed their work. It turned out that those who had previously read that unloading anger is an effective way to calm down, felt even greater anger than those who read that it is ineffective.

15. The traits that are based on genes can not be changed

They can to some extent, because the influence of genes and the environment is two-sided. Genes affect behavior, but behavior also affects gene expression. Researchers from the field of knowledge called epigenetics explore these influences.

16. Brainstorming

Brainstorming is, according to many people, a very creative way of working, during which more new ideas are created than when working alone. Its premise is to produce as many ideas as possible without assessing their usefulness. Research indicates, however, that groups participating in brainstorming create less ideas than individual people working alone. There are probably several reasons. One of them is fear of judgment. Although in the brainstorming session, we do not comment and do not evaluate others’ ideas, even the most weird ones, some are afraid of the assessment anyway. The second reason is the social loafing mechanism occurring during each work in the group in which the participants are not assessed individually. If only the overall result of the whole group is assessed, many people usually have less motivation to work than when they know that their contribution to the work will be assessed as well. Another reason is the fact that waiting for your turn causes forgetting or rejecting your own ideas. Besides, the need to listen to other people’s ideas may hamper their creation or vice versa – creating your own ideas makes it difficult to listen to others and create new ideas based on what others have invented, which is also the brainstorming assumption.

Brainstorming is popular because their participants are generally convinced that they have worked more productively than they could work alone. However, this does not apply only to brainstorming. Participants in group interpersonal, communication or negotiation trainings often have the impression that they have learned a lot, even though objective tests do not confirm this.

17. The Ink Blot Test

The ink-blot test, also called the Rorschach Test, was created in 1921 and has been criticized since the 1940s. In its assumption, the associations that people have when seeing spots such as below can reveal their personality and disorders.

rorschach test

However, many studies confirm that this test is ineffective and often detects disorders that other tests did not detect. Perhaps this is the reason for its popularity, despite many critical remarks (some may think that if it detects disorders that other tests did not detect, it means that it “goes deeper” and nothing can be hidden from it). Even in 2000, this totally pointless test used 20% of psychologists (working in correctional facilities) up to 77% (clinical psychologists)(24). Fortunately, in 2009 the test was published on Wikipedia, and according to the rules prevailing in psychology, tests that are publicly shown can not be used in psychological work because in order for the test to give reliable results, the test taker must see him for the first time. So the ink-blot test is a thing of the past.

18. Psychoanalysis = psychotherapy

Many people put a sign of equality between the words psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, while psychoanalysis is just one of many psychotherapy approaches. It was created by Freud and currently only a few psychotherapists use all its assumptions in their work. Not every psychotherapy is also about looking for the causes of problems in childhood.

For example, psychotherapy in the cognitive approach is based on the elimination of irrational beliefs and thoughts. Such an irrational belief is, for example, the thought “I’m not good for anything”. A psychotherapist working with cognitive technique does not inquire why the person thinks in this way, but tries to show him his good qualities and convince him that he is suitable for many things.

Another method of psychotherapy is behavioral psychotherapy, effective among others in the case of various phobias. Psychotherapists working with this method also do not inquire why someone is afraid of, for example, spiders, but they are working on the elimination of this fear. To eliminate it, you can show the person a photo of the spider until he stops being afraid of it, then a spider movie is shown, and when it also ceases to cause fear to the person, a living spider in the terrarium is shown, then the terrarium opens and so on.

Psychotherapy in the systemic approach is based on the assumption that the family is a system in which the members interact with each other and many psychotherapists specializing in this approach work with several family members. For example, a child may behave badly, because when he/she behaves badly, parents focus on him/her and can not argue with each other. Such parents can involuntarily reinforce their child’s bad behavior and the child may behave inappropriately in order to prevent conflicts between his parents. The psychotherapist should, through conversations, catch such a principle of functioning and help parents to realize what will help them solve the problem.

There is also a humanistic-existential approach based on the assumption that a healthy person is a man who fully accepts himself. Psychotherapists working with this method focus on helping the person in accepting himself, which should help him solve his problems.

What I am describing is a great simplification, because there are many different methods of psychotherapy. I just want to make it clear that not every psychotherapy is about going back to the past and working on different traumas. That’s how Freud worked, but many other psychotherapeutic approaches have been created since his time.

19. A good psychotherapist is an experienced psychotherapist

There is no correlation between the psychotherapist’s experience and the effectiveness of psychotherapy. The effectiveness of psychotherapy depends on the client’s motivation to change; from the relationship that the therapist will create with him (whether the client will trust him) and from choosing the technique of psychotherapy to the problem. The work experience of a psychotherapist does not mean effectiveness in itself.

20. Psychopaths = murderers

The next two words between which many people put an equal sign are psychopathy and murder. People with psychopathy (in other words, sociopathy, anti-social or dissocial personality) do not feel guilt, shame, responsibility or fear. They can not plan distant goals and strive to immediately satisfy their needs and urges. They treat their partners objectively and are unable to create lasting emotional relationships with other people. They can not predict the effects of their own behavior or draw conclusions from previous experiences. They often behave in a self-destructive way, eg after a period of successes, they destroy their achievements for incomprehensible reasons. They have a tendency to self-injury and often blackmail with suicide. At the same time, their intelligence is at the correct level.

Many psychopaths commit crimes, but they are often minor crimes, such as shoplifting. Few of them are murderers, and not all murderers are psychopaths.


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18: Kocsis, R. N., Hayes, A. F., & Irwin, H. J. (2002). Investigative experience and accuracy in psychological profiling of a violent crime. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 17, 811-823.
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20: Beaman, A., Barnes, P., Klentz, B., & McQuirk, B. (1978). Increasing helping rates through information dissemination: Teaching pays. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4, 406-411.
21: Tarter, R. E., Alterman, A. I., & Edwards, K. L. (1985). Vulnerability to alcoholism in men: A behavior-genetic perspective. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 46, 329-356.
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Other references:
1. Tomasz Witkowski “Zakazana psychologia. Tom I” Biblioteka Moderatora, Taszów, 2009
2. Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, Barry L. Beyerstein “50 wielkich mitów psychologii popularnej” (eng. 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology), Wydawnictwo CiS, Warszawa – Stare groszki, 2011
3. “Zadaniowe funkcjonowanie grupy” in: Bogdan Wojciszke “Człowiek wśród ludzi. Zarys psychologii społecznej” Wydawnictwo Naukowe SCHOLAR, Warszawa, 2006
6. Lecture on “psychological help” and “psychopathology” at the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Warsaw, year 2011/2012

Author: Maja Kochanowska

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