50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior

By Hama, Aldric | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior


Hama, Aldric, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio and Barry L. Beyerstein Wiley-Blackwell, 2010

Every once in a while it is necessary to recheck current scientific knowledge for completeness, not only to fill in gaps in understanding or to examine the latest breaking discoveries within the context of what has already been found, but also for accuracy. The reflexive acceptance of myths as truths leads to erroneous reasoning and erroneous conclusions, spilling over into other fields and skewing our worldview. A significant part of the problem is the lack of critical evaluation of the confident-sounding "conventional wisdom". Challenging conventional wisdom usually leads to political or social isolation. Galileo Galilei's run-in with the Catholic Church comes to mind; and not even death and status as a former priest protected Copernicus from Church condemnation. (Outside of science, whole-hearted acceptance of conventional wisdom can lead to calamity.33)

In science, there are many claims and half-truths that are cleverly disguised as facts. Few laymen have the time, resources or skills needed to evaluate the validity of these claims. In the age of mass communication and the Internet, the array of claims and half-truths is never-ending. Discerning the truth in a clinical specialty like psychiatry is even more difficult for the layman. Not only is there the technical aspect of the field, but an aura of mystery surrounds it. Lilienfeld et al., all of whom are professors of psychology, do a great service not only by compiling fascinating myths, but by taking the time to uncover the origin of each myth and explaining why they are indeed myths, all without the excessive use of psychology-related jargon. The authors, fully aware that even psychology professors and their students are prone to these myths, do not attempt to lecture down to the nonspecialist. Since readers may not be technically-minded and (real, nonmythical) science tends to make sterile reading, the authors infuse occasional humor into the text.

There are 50 main myths (and many lesser myths) discussed that are widely taken for granted as true by the public. The myths are grouped into general categories (e.g., consciousness, emotion, personality). A few of the myths on brain functioning covered in this book, such as the "infallibility" of memory, the brain's "unlimited potential" for learning and the alleged psychological benefits of raising self-esteem, have been described elsewhere as "illusions".34 The reader will also note, via the numerous surveys in the book, that there are large discrepancies between what the public believes is true and what psychologists have demonstrated to be true.

Observations of what motivates one's self and others form the basis of psychological beliefs. Based on our rudimentary "theories," we predict how we and others would respond in various situations. Being able to forecast behavior lessens the jolt of unexpected events and gives a sense of assurance in interpersonal relationships. "Psychomythology" stems however, from reliance on intuition, limited and biased sampling and the tendency to overweight outliers. The authors include myths that span the cradle-to-grave lifecycle.

It is all parents' wish to have their children grow up to be productive adults, financially as well as in terms of offspring. So, it is understandable that parents will take advantage of any opportunity that will give their children an edge over their peers. However, the various schemes designed to "improve intelligence" in infants with "enrichment" and with matching "teaching styles with learning styles" in school-aged children suffer from a lack of hard evidence that demonstrates marked increase in IQ and, most importantly, a persistent increase (Myths #6, 18). The lack of clear guidelines as to how enrichment is to be used (one hour per day?

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