5 MORE GREAT MYTHS OF POP PSYCHOLOGY
Myths: They're Everywhere!
Earlier this year, with the help of Scott Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, and Barry Beyerstein's eye-opening book 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology, we detailed ten of the greatest myths about psychology.
But myth-busting never gets old. If you're looking to sate your daily desire for logic, reason, and common sense, read on to learn about five more of the biggest myths in popular psychology.
1) IQ Tests Are Biased Against Certain Groups
Critics of the IQ test contend that it's good for only one thing: predicting performance on IQ tests. But scientific data shows otherwise.
"Although far from perfect measures, IQ tests yield scores that are among the most valid and cost effective predictors of academic achievement and job performance across just about every occupation studied," Lilienfeld writes.
2) You Will Experience a Midlife Crisis
It's a fact of life assumed by four out of every five Americans. By the time middle age rolls around, you will be embroiled in a "period of dramatic self-questioning and turbulence": the mid-life crisis.
The concept has been around for centuries, but it received an ounce of evidence in the 1960s courtesy of psychologist Erik Erikson. He observed that in the middle parts of adulthood, people grapple to find meaning in their lives and wonder if they've made the right decisions. But according to Lilienfeld, he exaggerated the prevalence.
More recent studies conducted across cultures debunk the inevitability of the mid-life crisis. Less than a quarter of adults report experiencing one. It appears that anxiety about such a crisis is far more pervasive than the crisis itself.
3) Ulcers Are Primarily Caused by Stress
Thank you, Freudian psychology, for another pervasive myth.
For most of the 1900s, physicians and laypersons were convinced that stress caused peptic ulcers, painful breaches or sores in the lining of the stomach that affect four million Americans each year. Now, however, we know that a specific bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, is predominantly to blame.
The discovery was a game-changer in the treatment of ulcers. Antibiotics could now be used to clear out the bacterial infection.
So important was this discovery and related contradiction of historical thought that the men who discovered H. pylori and its link to ulcers, Robin Warren and Barry J. Marshall, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2005.
4) Express Your Anger; Don't Hold It In!
For years, psychiatrists and self-help books expounded on the benefits of catharsis, the process of purging pent-up anger and emotions by expressing them in relatively safe ways. It makes intuitive sense. After all, if you let air out of a balloon it's impossible for it to burst.
But in controlled studies, psychologists have found that expressing anger actually seems to boost feelings of aggression.
"Why is the myth of catharsis still popular despite compelling evidence that anger feeds aggression?" wonders Lilienfeld. "Because people sometimes feel better for a short time after they blow off steam."
Wildly yelling or violently punching a pillow may prompt the release of the hormones cortisol and endorphins, providing a quick boost followed by a brief bout of calm, but neither of those activities actually solve any of the underlying causes of anger.
5) Criminal Profiling Helps Solve Cases
"Throw enough mud at a wall and eventually some of it will stick." That's psychics' modus operandi, and it fits a great many criminal profilers as well.
Criminal profilers are trained professionals who claim to be able to predict all sorts of characteristics about a criminal based solely on details of the crime. They're featured regularly on shows like CNN's Nancy Grace.
But though they're touted as experts, profilers are only slightly better than untrained individuals at guessing criminals' characteristics based on case files. In one meta-analysis of four studies, profilers "fared no better or even slightly worse than non-profilers at gauging offenders' physical characteristics, including gender, age, and race, thinking processes, including motives and guilt regarding the crime, and personal habits, including marital status and education," Lilienfeld wrote.