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

September 2009, ©2009, Wiley-Blackwell
50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior (EHEP002362) cover image
50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology uses popular myths as a vehicle for helping students and laypersons to distinguish science from pseudoscience.
  • Uses common myths as a vehicle for exploring how to distinguish factual from fictional claims in popular psychology
  • Explores topics that readers will relate to, but often misunderstand, such as 'opposites attract', 'people use only 10% of their brains', and 'handwriting reveals your personality'
  • Provides a 'mythbusting kit' for evaluating folk psychology claims in everyday life
  • Teaches essential critical thinking skills through detailed discussions of each myth
  • Includes over 200 additional psychological myths for readers to explore
    Contains an Appendix of useful Web Sites for examining psychological myths
  • Features a postscript of remarkable psychological findings that sound like myths but that are true
  • Engaging and accessible writing style that appeals to students and lay readers alike
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Preface xiii

Acknowledgments xix

Introduction The Wide World of Psychomythology 1

1 Brain Power Myths about the Brain and Perception 21

#1 Most People Use Only 10% of Their Brain Power 21

#2 Some People Are Left-Brained, Others Are Right-Brained 25

#3 Extrasensory Perception Is a Well-Established Scientific Phenomenon 29

#4 Visual Perceptions Are Accompanied by Tiny Emissions from the Eyes 33

#5 Subliminal Messages Can Persuade People to Purchase Products 36

2 From Womb to Tomb Myths about Development and Aging 45

#6 Playing Mozart’s Music to Infants Boosts Their Intelligence 45

#7 Adolescence Is Inevitably a Time of Psychological Turmoil 49

#8 Most People Experience a Midlife Crisis in Their 40s or Early 50s 52

#9 Old Age Is Typically Associated with Increased Dissatisfaction and Senility 56

#10 When Dying, People Pass through a Universal Series of Psychological Stages 60

3 A Remembrance of Things Past Myths about Memory 65

#11 Human Memory Works like a Tape Recorder or Video Camera, and Accurately Records the Events
We’ve Experienced 65

#12 Hypnosis is Useful for Retrieving Memories of Forgotten Events 69

#13 Individuals Commonly Repress the Memories of Traumatic Experiences 73

#14 Most People with Amnesia Forget All Details of Their Earlier Lives 78

4 Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks Myths about Intelligence and Learning 83

#15 Intelligence Tests Are Biased against Certain Groups of People 83

#16 If You’re Unsure of Your Answer When Taking a Test, It’s Best to Stick with Your Initial Hunch 87

#17 The Defining Feature of Dyslexia Is Reversing Letters 89

#18 Students Learn Best When Teaching Styles Are Matched to Their Learning Styles 92

5 Altered States Myths about Consciousness 100

#19 Hypnosis Is a Unique “Trance” State that Differs in Kind from Wakefulness 100

#20 Researchers Have Demonstrated that Dreams Possess Symbolic Meaning 104

#21 Individuals Can Learn Information, like New Languages, while Asleep 108

#22 During “Out-of-Body” Experiences, People’s Consciousness Leaves Their Bodies 110

6 I’ve Got a Feeling Myths about Emotion and Motivation 116

#23 The Polygraph (“Lie Detector”) Test Is an Accurate Means of Detecting Dishonesty 116

#24 Happiness Is Determined Mostly by Our External Circumstances 122

#25 Ulcers Are Caused Primarily or Entirely by Stress 126

#26 A Positive Attitude Can Stave off Cancer 129

7 The Social Animal Myths about Interpersonal Behavior 135

#27 Opposites Attract: We Are Most Romantically Attracted to People Who Differ from Us 135

#28 There’s Safety in Numbers: The More People Present at an Emergency, the Greater the Chance that Someone Will Intervene 139

#29 Men and Women Communicate in Completely Different Ways 143

#30 It’s Better to Express Anger to Others than to Hold It in 147

8 Know Thyself Myths about Personality 153

#31 Raising Children Similarly Leads to Similarities in Their Adult Personalities 153

#32 The Fact that a Trait Is Heritable Means We Can’t Change It 158

#33 Low Self-Esteem Is a Major Cause of Psychological Problems 162

#34 Most People Who Were Sexually Abused in Childhood Develop Severe Personality Disturbances in Adulthood 166

#35 People’s Responses to Inkblots Tell Us a Great Deal about Their Personalities 171

#36 Our Handwriting Reveals Our Personality Traits 175

9 Sad, Mad, and Bad Myths about Mental Illness 181

#37 Psychiatric Labels Cause Harm by Stigmatizing People 181

#38 Only Deeply Depressed People Commit Suicide 186

#39 People with Schizophrenia Have Multiple Personalities 189

#40 Adult Children of Alcoholics Display a Distinct Profile of Symptoms 192

#41 There’s Recently Been a Massive Epidemic of Infantile Autism 195

#42 Psychiatric Hospital Admissions and Crimes Increase during Full Moons 201

10 Disorder in the Court Myths about Psychology and the Law 209

#43 Most Mentally Ill People Are Violent 209

#44 Criminal Profiling Is Helpful in Solving Cases 212

#45 A Large Proportion Of Criminals Successfully Use the Insanity Defense 216

#46 Virtually All People Who Confess to a Crime Are Guilty of It 220

11 Skills and Pills Myths about Psychological Treatment 227

#47 Expert Judgment and Intuition Are the Best Means of Making Clinical Decisions 227

#48 Abstinence Is the Only Realistic Treatment Goal for Alcoholics 232

#49 All Effective Psychotherapies Force People to Confront the “Root” Causes of Their Problems in Childhood 236

#50 Electroconvulsive (“Shock”) Therapy Is a Physically Dangerous and Brutal Treatment 239

Postscript Truth is Stranger than Fiction 247

Appendix

Recommended Websites for Exploring Psychomythology 253

References 255

Index 319

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Scott O. Lilienfeld is a Professor of Psychology at Emory University. He is a recipient of the 1998 David Shakow Early Career Award for Distinguished Contributions to Clinical Psychology from Division 12 (Society for Clinical Psychology) of the APA, past president of the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology, and a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science. Dr. Lilienfeld's principal areas of research are personality disorders, psychiatric classification and diagnosis, pseudoscience in mental health, and the teaching of psychology.

Steven Jay Lynn is a Professor of Psychology at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He is past President of the APA’s Division of Psychological Hypnosis, and the recipient of the Chancellor's Award of the SUNY for Scholarship and Creative Activities. His major areas of research include hypnosis and memory.

John Ruscio is an Associate Professor of Psychology at The College of New Jersey. His scholarly interests include quantitative methods for psychological research and the characteristics of pseudoscience that distinguish subjects within and beyond the fringes of psychological science.

Barry Beyerstein (the late) was Professor of Psychology at Simon Fraser University and chair of the British Columbia Skeptics Society. He was Associate Editor of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, and he co-authored many articles in the Skeptical Inquirer and professional journals.

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  • Uses common myths as a vehicle for exploring how to distinguish factual from fictional claims in popular psychology
  • Explores topics that readers will relate to, but often misunderstand, such as “opposites attract,”  “people use only 10% of their brains,” and handwriting reveals your personality
  • Provides a “mythbusting kit” for evaluating folk psychology claims in everyday life
  • Teaches essential critical thinking skills through detailed discussions of each myth
  • Includes over 200 additional psychological myths for readers to explore
    Contains an Appendix of useful Web Sites for examining psychological myths
  • Features a postscript of remarkable psychological findings that sound like myths but that are true
  • Engaging and accessible writing style that appeals to students and lay readers alike
See More
"Written in an accessible and entertaining style, the book examines a wide range of myths from all areas of psychology. . . Accordingly, the book is a much-needed antidote to the avalanche of misinformation that masquerades as psychology and should be required reading for anyone with a passing interest in psychology or, for that matter, the human condition." (Department of Psychology, 1 June 2011)

"Not only does the book illustrate just how often our intuitions are wrong, it also shows us how - in comparison to the truth - uninteresting they are. Shallow judgments imply over-confidence, assumption and monotomy. Assuming that you know something prior to giving any consideration to where that knowledge comes from is a mistake for many reasons but perhaps most of all because such presumption precludes surprise. To be surprised - shocked, provoked, scandalized - is a pleasure. . . 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology tells us that we need urgently to deal with our tendency to judge books by their covers. And just maybe, rather than considering any idealistic appeal to our rationalism, we should deal with this problem by considering an inversion similar to Kubrick's: for now at least, when it comes to presenting discoveries about the mind, we ought not to try in vain to change our nature - our tendency towards prejudice - but instead do something simpler: tell better stories, and design better covers." (The Skeptic, 2011)

"As you can tell from my reactions above I found this a very informative book and I'm only touching on particular things with my comments. If you're a writer, this book should be read post-haste so you don't keep repeating things you thought were true and obviously aren't. For everyone else, the revelations should make you sit up and take heed of what not to be taken in by." (SFCrowsnest.co.uk, 1 May 2011)

"This would be an ideal book to have in offices where people have to spend some time waiting for appointments." (Education Digest, November 2010)

"This book would suit educators involved in study skills and critical thinking courses who might be looking for some new angles with which to update or spruce up their courses. It should be equally digestible to the A-level student and the first-year undergraduate."  (PLATH, December 2010)

"I love 50 Great Myths and used it in my winter seminar.  This should be on every psychologist's shelf." (Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, October 2010)

"This is a refreshing and fun look at many of the concepts that have been accepted as fact by our popular culture." (Book End Babes, September 01, 2010)

"At the end of each sub-section covering an individual myth is a list of anti-factoids about related matters and their factual antidotes. By this means a considerable range of topics is covered." (Education Review, July 2010)

"Maybe we should pay more attention to books like 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Nature. The four psychology professors who authored this enlightening book are up against the roughly 3,500 self-help titles, a lot of them based on false premises, that are published in the U.S. every year." (Poe'sDeadly Daughters, April 2010)

"Scott Lilienfeld and his team ... have a history in delving into the dark myths of science, and pseudoscience ... .They are back. As with their other works, these authors manage to write well for ease of reading so many facts, and do so with their characteristic humor and cutting edge science. This book is [an] illumination, and vital reading for professionals and even laymen." (Metapsychology, June 2010)

"Who should read this book? Anyone interested in psychology and or the scientific method.  The book is written in an easy to read fashion, is well referenced and includes a wide array of topics.  The book teaches the value of critical thinking, and tells us it's all right to question authority. In conclusion, 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology is a must read for psychology majors, therapists and anyone who wishes to gain knowledge about the diverse field of psychology.  I wish this book was available when I was studying psychology in college." (Basil & Spice (Jamie Hale), May 2010)

"Popular psychology is a prolific source of myths. A new book does an excellent job of mythbusting: 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. Some myths I had swallowed whole and the book's carefully presented evidence made me change my mind. They cover 50 myths in depth, explaining their origins, why people believe them, and what the published research has to say about the claims. Everything is meticulously documented with sources listed. The authors have done us a great service by compiling all this information in a handy, accessible form, by showing how science trumps common knowledge and common sense, and by teaching us how to question and think about what we hear. I highly recommend it." (Dr. Harriet Hall for Skeptic Magazine, February 2010, and ScienceBasedMedicine.org, November 2009)

"50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology is written in an engaging style and is valuable for both professionals and the general public. I highly recommend it." (Skeptical Inquirer, February 2010)

"Delightful and important book ... .This is a fine tool for teaching critical thinking. 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology is much more than an entertaining put-down of popular misconceptions. Any psychologist can put [this book] to good use. Certainly teachers can use it as a supplement to aid in teaching critical thinking and to suggest ideas for research on other myths.We can give it to family members and friends who are curious about what psychology has to contribute and might themselves engage in some myth busting." (PsycCritiques, January 2010)

"If you are familiar with other books by the same authors, you know that the writing style is incredibly engaging and easy-to-read, making the book accessible to those with little knowledge of psychology and well as those with considerable education in the field. While we certainly won't stop combating clinical psychology myths here at PBB, it's always exciting to come across like-minded folks also providing valuable material!" (Psychotherapy Brown Bag, October 2009)

"50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology is a fascinating book, and while reading, I cheered the authors on. If you have questioned science as some of us have, this book will reassure you that your thinking was perfectly logical and correct. 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology clarifies things about which I have always wondered, but never challenged. Myths about aging, memory, learning, emotions and motivation, and mental illness are among the subjects covered.  The reading is enlightening, refreshing and interesting.You don't have to be a Ph.D, or even a student of psychology to enjoy this book.  It's is written in language all can understand and the information is easily digested." (Basil & Spice, October 2009)

"Scott Lilienfeld and his coauthors explore the gulf between what millions of people say is so and the truth. Some of these myths are just plain fascinating." (US News and World Report, October 2009)

 

“True knowledge is hard won, and this timely and remarkable book shows us that stamping out falsehoods is no easy task either. The book does it all: it debunks all-too-common beliefs from the pseudoscientific fringe; it presents evidence against a variety of myths that seem like they ought to be true; it explains why people fall prey to such falsehoods; and it ends with some tantalizing facts about mind and behavior that make it clear that the truth can be every bit as amazing as fiction. These 50 myths won't disappear with the publication of this book, but those who read it will enjoy being able to set others-many others-straight.”
Thomas Gilovich, Cornell University

"We have needed this compendium for some time. These factoids and popular (but fallacious) memes about psychology have been exposed in single publications, but critiques of all of them have never been brought together in one place before. The myths chosen by these authors are indeed popular ones—the very ones that psychology instructors encounter every day. The book is an incredible resource for both student and instructor. The critiques are accurate and well written. I’m sure my copy will be dog-eared within six months."
Keith E. Stanovich, author or How To Think Straight About Psychology and What Intelligence Tests Miss

"A much-needed mythbuster for consumers and students of psychology. This engaging book reminds us that applying science to everyday psychology is not only enormously worthwhile, but fun."
Carol Tavris, Ph.D., coauthor of Mistakes were made (but not by me)

"Because I only use 10% of my brain, I had to play Mozart music while reading this book, and then be hypnotized to recover the memory of it because of early childhood traumas that were repressed but occasionally leaked through out-of-body experiences and ESP. And if you believe any of the above you need to read this book...twice if its mythbusting revelations cause you to repress the memory of it."
Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, and author of Why People Believe Weird Things

"Is it true that psychology is mostly common sense? For anyone who wonders, this amazing book—which effectively discounts 50 pop psychology myths and briefly dismisses 250 more—provides convincing answers. And it does more: it offers fascinating examples of how science works and supports critical thinking. For teachers, students, writers, and anyone who wants to think smarter, this classic-to-be will be a valuable resource and a great read."
David G. Myers, Hope College, author, Intuition: Its Powers and Perils

"I find each and every chapter excellent and from a teaching point of view, brilliant. The way in which the history of the myths is presented up to the critical but balanced discussion of each myth, is a great achievement. Scott Lilienfeld is well-known for his user-friendly writing style, but in this text he and his co-authors reach a new level. This led to a book which will not only be easily understandable by undergraduate and especially first year students, but also by the general population."
Dap Louw, Head, Centre for Psychology and the Law, University of the Free State

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ChapterPageDetailsDatePrint Run
20 Page 20
Page 20 is omitted in the third printing. The text of page 20 is reproduced here
02/2010 3
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