Here are certain science "facts" you may have learned at some point:

  • One dog year is worth seven human years.
  • Spinach is a great source of iron.
  • Winter is cold because your part of the earth is farther from the sun.
  • Redheads are slowly going extinct.
  • Billions of years from now the sun will explode.

The trouble, however, is all of these statement are untrue.

We often learn science as a series of eternal truths, but in reality science is a body of knowledge in flux. Thanks to ongoing research, what's true when you're sitting in sophomore biology may not be true 20 years later when you're trying to remember what you learned. (Plus, your teacher might even have been wrong in the first place.) 

And what's true of canine aging and the genetics of hair color is also true of psychology, according to a fun recent post on the British Psychological Society Research Digest blog written by editor Christian Jarrett, outlining ten common psychology myths. Many of these are about niches within the discipline like autism or domestic violence, but here are three of the most general and widely held errors to get you started:

1. You have a "learning style."

No, actually you don't. But don't feel bad if you believed you were a "visual learner" or needed to try things out actively in order to grasp them. One recent study showed 95 percent of British teachers believe in learning styles too. But actual science to support the idea is decidedly thin on the ground.

"Psychology research shows consistently that people do not learn better when taught via their preferred modality, and that instead the most effective modality for teaching usually varies according to the nature of the material under study," writes Jarrett.

2. Crowds make people dumb and selfish.

Maybe blame Frankenstein for this one, but most of us have the idea that when people get together in crowds they often lose their heads and grab their pitchforks. Tales of crowds stampeding over each other at large events don't add to the impression that being in a big group lowers the collective IQ.

The reality is far rosier than popular mythology. "Panic is rare and people frequently stop to help one another. Cooperation is particularly likely when people feel a shared sense of identity," the post says, summarizing the state of the science.

3. Bad situations can turn anyone bad.

You've probably heard of the infamous Stanford prison experiment in which scientists quickly induced normal people to behave horribly to each other by assigning them to play the role of a prison guard and putting them in charge of others. The implication of the research seems clear -- put even decent people in bad situations and they'll turn bad. Many of history's grimmer episodes seem to back up the idea.

Lesser known is that follow-up research casts doubt on this one well known study and complicates the bleak picture it paints of human nature. "The Stanford Experiment was highly flawed and has been misinterpreted," claims BPS. "Later research, such as the BBC Prison Experiment, has shown how the same situation can lead to cooperative behavior rather than tyranny, depending on whether and how different people identify with each other."

Published on: Aug 9, 2016
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