on 6 December 2011
"Opposites attract", "you only use 10% of your brain", and "people are more depressed on Mondays" are just some of the myths that people accept as fact, when they are in fact totally false. This book debunks some of the popular misconceptions about human behavior that are in circulation, and shows that fact is far more interesting than fiction. This book is aimed at psychology students and anyone interested in psychology and behavior. It offers fascinating examples of how science works, supports critical thinking, and counters some of the pseudo-science circulating in popular culture.
This book presents scientific evidence disproving a variety of myths that seem like they ought to be true, and explains why people fall prey to such falsehoods. The book tackles psychological myths about brain power, learning, perception, feelings, memory, mood, mental illness and more.
The book has a postscript of psychological findings that are strange but true, such as the behavioral study with pigeons, where they were successfully taught to distinguish between the paintings of Monet and Picasso! Or the study that shows that dogs do resemble their owners! Fact not fiction!
The book is fully referenced and has recommendations for further reading.
The authors are all well respected professors of psychology at leading universities in the US and Canada.
on 19 July 2015
The four authors have written a readable, well-researched critique of fifty old wives' tales that don’t seem to be supported by current psychological research. I found myself agreeing with most of them, but disagreeing sharply with their discussions of “myths” 8, 24, 29, 34, 40, 47 and 48. Plus their discussion of the “autism epidemic” left out the role of treatment funding, which is the main reason for the “epidemic”.
Most of the myths they deal with are pop-culture nonsense. Much fewer, but very valuable, are the discussions on myths about clinical and medical techniques. Some of the myths are not myths at all, but moments that don’t happen to everybody, and it’s those I took taken exception to. Polygraphs are always random, mid-life crises happen to a certain kind of man.
I think there’s a reason the authors made this mistake, and it’s pretty much at the heart of psychology. Psychiatrists deal with the serious cases needing unpleasant drugs with nasty side-effects; therapists, 12-Step and self-help groups deal with dysfunctional people, and have varying degrees of success. This leaves psychologists studying regular folk. Regular folk are largely untroubled by everyday insults and inconvenience, recover with appropriate speed from the serious upsets and tragedies, and most of all, regular folk keep what little inner life they have to themselves and also from themselves. People lie "all the time" when they answer those psychologist’s quizzes, and it takes a lot of questions to reveal this cheating: the latest MMPI tests for nine different kinds of ‘cheating’ and takes about fifty or so dedicated questions to do so, as well as duplicating many others to test for consistency. Asking people to describe and assess themselves is no way to discover what they are feeling or what is happening in their lives. (Unless it’s a study about the many delusions of regular people, which the Kahneman crowd do so well). It feels like psychologists are here to tell us that a) whatever it is, we will get over it, b) therapy, drugs and chanting won’t get us through it any faster, c) it will have no lasting effects. This is a nice message, and it may be what emerges from enough studies of self-satisfied regular people with almost zero self-awareness (ah! accountants! how I envy them their smug self-satisfaction), but it’s not what the taxpayer needs.
What the taxpayer needs is some advice for coping and dealing when life hits hard and they are down on resilience. It’s not enough to say “Lost your job? Well, our studies say that you’re overdoing it. Most people said that they eventually overcame the shock of losing their jobs and made happy new lives for themselves earning half of what they were for working twice as many hours for an insecure bully of a supervisor. Because happiness is all in the mind, not the external world.” I’m exaggerating slightly, but read this book, and you will find out just how slightly.
Before reading this book I was aware of quite a number of myths of popular psychology, so I was wondering if the authors would cover many I didn't already know about. They did. This was fascinating. The research presented not only explains what research actually says (or does not say) but also shows roughly how many people believe the myths.
This book is easy and pleasant to read.
Obviously, I don't expect their conclusions to be perfect in every respect and some of them will be found to be myths in future. What I can say is that if you read this book you will jettison more myths than you acquire.