Psychology, and Debunking Everything

Contrary to popular belief, the Mozart effect - the idea that listening to classical music temporarily increases your IQ - is a myth, the idea that left-handed people are more creative is a myth, and the idea that most stereotypical differences between mens’ an women’s abilities in math, writing, and the like, are actually very small - large gender differences are also a myth. Ben Ambridge, a psychology at the University of Liverpool recently delivered a TED Talk: Ten Myths About Psychology, Debunked. He shed light on the above, among other examples, in hope of shedding common misperceptions about psychology.

Despite these individual examples, the thesis of Dr. Ambridge’s talk was largely that not everything you think you know about psychology is true. In fact, most things are not. This represents a problem psychologists have long struggled with. If an astrophysicist asks you how many ft-lbs of thrust are required to launch an 18,000 kg rocket into space, most people will stare blankly; but, if a psychologist asks you how people might behave in some social situation, most people will venture a guess - and some people will be very confident that they’re correct. Many people assume that, because they have experience in things that psychologists study, they must have some idea about human nature and behaviour.

A better message than not everything you think you know about psychology is true might be not everything you think you know is true. In this way, psychology is just an exemplar of a more universal issue, at least in the sciences. Personal assumptions are rarely challenged, least not by the people holding the assumptions themselves. With fresh eyes are issues rarely approached. Dr. Ambridge delivered a great and insightful talk that i hope all viewers give serious consideration to. But consider it outside of the realm of psychology as well. When making a decision, consider what assumptions you’ve based your conclusion on, consider what you’re sure you know and what you think you know, and consider alternative possibilities. Challenge yourself.

When i was in grad school, i designed a t-shirt for a student group i was working with that said, “Yes, i’m a psychologist. No, i’m not reading your mind.” I’m afraid the humour might have been lost on those outside of the department of psychology.

TED Talk: Ten myths about psychology, debunked

Jeff Doering
17 Feb 2015