Welcome to another session of psychology with Muna and this times we consider some myths about psychology and the brain which have been re-enforced by pop psychology.

Image: Munandalu Monze

Pop psychology is basically psychology concepts that are used in news articles, books or Magazines, in short media in general, that are not always accurate because they are simplified for the public and they get something wrong. This segment promised accuracy and that is why I want to clear some of the myths that are trending. There are a lot of myths surrounding psychology yet we will consider the most common ones.

To begin with, is the myth that Opposites attract. If this was physics and we were looking at a magnet then the assumption could have been true but this is psychology and to hold as truth that opposite attracts is a “toxic belief” as Smith et al (1993) put it. In as much as this assumption is widely held and continues to show up in movies and tv shows, studies such as done by Horton & Kirchner (2008) confirm the opposite. It was found that similarity and attraction are linked.

This Finding is also stated in the Bible book of Amos 3:3 “ Can two walk together unless they are agreed?” We see this in our every day associations, we are twice as likely to be attracted to people we share similar interests, food, type of music and even religious affiliation. We also tend to dislike people who are not similar to us. This is not so say though that you cannot get attracted to someone who is opposite to you, such has happened and somehow the relationship even works out so well. However, to hold this assumption as universal truth that opposite attracts is a myth.

Another popular myth that is widely held and that I once believed is that we only use 10% of our brain. That would mean 90% is domant and that would mean death of brain cells and eventually we would be couch potatoes.  In general terms, letting 90% of one’s brain go to waste would be a pretty inefficient biological strategy and would surely be selected against across generations.

Using imaging techniques such as fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), scientists have observed that all areas of a healthy brain are active all the time even when one is sleeping. The slip side though is, depending on the activity or task one is doing some areas of the brain become more active than others.

Do you think you learn well with visual aid or perhaps you see yourself as an auditory person? Well a lot of us believe we have preferred or more optimal style of learning. Unfortunately, there is no research to substantiate such claims. The downside to believing that we have a preferred learning style is that it narrows peoples learning strategies and approaches and the brain is not fully engaged in the process. Evidence from scientific experiments have shown that learning is accomplished best when we ‘go wide’ and try to engage as many of our senses and abilities as possible (Gardner, 2006).

The myth that people who have psychological disorders are violent is perpetuated in several areas of our society. In movies and television, it is rare to see a character with a psychological disorder who is not also portrayed as being violent. In fact, research shows that about 72% of characters with psychological disorders on television are portrayed as being violent, whereas only 45% of characters without such disorders display violence (Levine, 2001).

Individuals with schizophrenia or psychotic disorders are often portrayed as especially dangerous perpetrators of random acts of violence toward strangers. These myths carry over to news media. In reality, people with psychological disorders engage in violent criminal activity at similar rates to people without psychological disorders.

Recent research shows that only 4% of overall violent crimes in the United States can be attributed to individuals with psychological disorders (Friedman, 2014). Mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides (Knoll & Annas, 2015). Studies have found that while people who have psychotic illnesses like schizophrenia have a slightly higher rate of homicides compared to the general population, the incidence is still extremely uncommon – you are 15 times more likely to be killed by a lightning strike than by someone with a psychotic illness (Knoll & Annas, 2015).

Psychology is just common sense they say but, that’s the thing about common sense; just because something seems true doesn’t necessarily mean it is. After reading latest psychological research, people may tend to have an “Of course!” type of response. “Of course that’s true! Why do people even waste their time researching stuff that’s just common sense?” people sometimes shout.

Would you deliver potentially fatal electrical shocks to a stranger just because an authority figure told you to? Common sense might have you emphatically saying no, but psychologist Stanley Milgram famously demonstrated in an obedience experiment that the majority of people would do exactly such a thing. Psychology is a science and we can all agree that science is no common sense.

Another myth that is related to the aforementioned one is that psychology is not really a science. For a moment let us consider some key characteristics of a science:

  • Uses empirical methods
  • Allows for hypothesis testing
  • It is Objective
  • Results can be replicated
  • Findings allow researchers to predict the future
  • Variables can be controlled or manipulated

In order to investigate behavior, psychologists do rely on all these methods. Researchers are able to test different hypotheses and use statistical analysis to determine the likelihood that such results are due merely to chance. Psychologists also present their findings in a way that makes it possible for other researchers to replicate their experiments and methods in the future.

Let me end with my old time favorite myth, Psychologists can read your mind. When I tell people I’m studying psychology, their first response is generally “so can you tell what I’m thinking?”. That is a super power that I wish I had and probably any psychologists wished they had cause it would make our work very easy. We would not need to have long sessions with clients.

Being a Psychologist does not mean I’m a mind reader, it does not mean that I can tell what you’re like just by looking at you, and it does not mean that I’m studying every person that I walk past! Psychology is the study of the mind and how people interact in society, no psychologist will ever claim that they can mind read!

It is time that we put the most enduring myths about the brain and psychology to sleep and see the mind as it is. Remember to fill your mind with truth, till next time.



  1. Thank your for exposing the myth that those suffering from mental health issues are overwhelmingly violent. Our society has difficulty recognizing evil. In searching for an explanation, it has settled on mental illness. That stigmatizes those w/ mental health issues, though mental illness covers a broad spectrum. Best wishes on your blog, A.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My pleasure Anna🙏 It is my wish that we will accept that mental illness should be treated like physical illness. I was wondering why so much stigma on mental illness and your statement about society not being able to recognize evil and settling on mental health as an escape has given me some insight. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

      Liked by 2 people

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