About the Authors
Scott O. Lilienfeld is a Professor of Psychology at Emory University in Atlanta. Author of over 200 journal articles, chapters, and books, 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 American Psychological Associ ation (APA). He is a past president of the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology and a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science.
He is editor of the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. Dr. Lilienfeld’s principal areas of research are personality disorders, psychi atric classification and diagnosis, pseudoscience in mental health, and the teaching of psychology.
Steven Jay Lynn is a Professor of Psychology and Director of the Psy chological Clinic at the State University of New York at Binghamton. Dr. Lynn serves on 11 editorial boards, and he has 270 scholarly pub lications, including 16 books. He is past President of APA’s Division of Psychological Hypnosis, and he has been the recipient of the Chan cellor’s Award of the State University of New York for Scholarship and Creative Activities. He is a fellow of the APA and the Association for Psychological Science, and his research has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. His major areas of research include hypnosis, memory, fantasy, and dissociation.
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. He has published more than 50 articles, chapters, and books, including Critical Thinking in Psychology: Separating Sense from Nonsense; serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Psychological Assessment; and is an associate editor at the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice.
The late Barry L. Beyerstein was Professor of Psychology at Simon Fraser University and chair of the British Columbia Skeptics Society. He was co-editor of The Write Stuff (1992), Associate Editor of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, and co-authored many art icles in the Skeptical Inquirer and professional journals. Dr. Beyerstein was a member of the Advisory Board of the Drug Polity’ Foundation (Washington, DC) and a founding board member of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy (Ottawa, Ontario).
Psychology is all around us. Youth and old age, forgetting and remember ing, sleeping and dreaming, love and hate, happiness and sadness, mental illness and psychotherapy—for good, bad, and often both, this is the stuff of our daily lives. Virtually every day, the news media, television shows and films, and the Internet bombard us with claims regarding a host of psychological topics—brain functioning, psychics, out-of-body experiences, recovered memories, polygraph testing, romantic relation ships, parenting, child sexual abuse, mental disorders, real crime, and psychotherapy, to name merely a few. Even a casual stroll through our neighborhood bookstore reveals at least dozens, and often hundreds, of self-help, relationship, recovery, and addiction books that serve up generous portions of advice for steering our path along life’s rocky road.
Of course, for those who prefer their psychological advice for free, there’s no end of it on the Web. In countless ways, the popular psychology indus try shapes the landscape of the early 21st century world.
Yet to a surprising extent, much of what we believe to be true about psychology isn’t. Although scores of popular psychology sources are readily available in bookstores and at our fingertips online, they’re rife with myths and misconceptions. Indeed, in today’s fast-paced world of information overload, misinformation about psychology is at least as widespread as accurate information. Unfortunately, precious few books are available to assist us with the challenging task of distinguishing fact from fiction in popular psychology.
As a consequence, we often find ourselves at the mercy of self-help gurus, television talk show hosts, and radio self-proclaimed mental health experts, many of whom dispense psychological advice that’s a confusing mix of truths, half-truths, and outright falsehoods. Without a dependable tour guide for sorting out psychological myth from reality, we’re at risk for becoming lost in a jungle of misconceptions.
Many of the great myths of popular psychology not only mislead us about human nature, but can also lead us to make unwise decisions in our everyday lives. Those of us who believe erroneously that people typically repress the memories of painful experiences (see Myth #13) may spend much of our lives in a fruitless attempt to dredge up memories of childhood traumatic events that never happened; those of us who believe that happiness is determined mostly by our external circumstances (see Myth #24) may focus exclusively outside rather than inside of ourselves to find the perfect “formula” for long-term satisfaction; and those of us who believe erroneously that opposites attract in romantic relationships (see Myth #27) may spend years searching for a soulmate whose per sonalities and values differ sharply from ours—only to discover too late that such “matches” seldom work well. Myths matter.
1. BRAIN POWER
- Myth #1 Most People Use Only 10% of Their Brain Power
- Myth #2 Some People Are Left-Brained, Others Are Right-Brained
- Myth #3 Extrasensory Perception (ESP) Is a Well-Established Scientific Phenomenon
- Myth #4 Visual Perceptions Are Accompanied by Tiny Emissions from the Eyes Myth #5 Subliminal Messages Can Persuade People to Purchase Products
2. FROM WOMB TO TOMB
- Myth #6 Playing Mozart’s Music to Infants Boosts Their Intelligence
- Myth #7 Adolescence Is Inevitably a Time of Psychological Turmoil
- Myth #8 Most People Experience a Midlife Crisis in \ 8 Their 40s or Early 50s
- Myth #9 Old Age Is Typically Associated with Increased Dissatisfaction and Senility
- Myth #10 When Dying, People Pass through a Universal Series of Psychological Stages
3. A REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST
- Myth #11 Human Memory Works like a Tape Recorder or Video Camera, andAccurate Events We’ve Experienced
- Myth #12 Hypnosis Is Useful for Retrieving Memories of Forgotten Events
- Myth #13 Individuals Commonly Repress the Memories of Traumatic Experiences
- Myth #14 Most People with Amnesia Forget All Details of Their Earlier Lives
4. TEACHING OLD DOGS NEW TRICKS
- Myth #15 Intelligence (IQ) Tests Are Biased against Certain Groups of People
- My th #16 If You’re Unsure of Your Answer When Taking a Test, It’s Best to Stick with Your Initial Hunch
- Myth #17 The Defining Feature of Dyslexia Is Reversing Letters
- Myth #18 Students Learn Best When Teaching Styles Are Matched to Their Learning Styles
5. ALTERED STATES
- Myth #19 Hypnosis Is a Unique “Trance” State that Differs inKindfrom Wakefulness
- Myth #20 Researchers Have Demonstrated that Dreams Possess Symbolic Meaning
- Myth #21 People Can Learn Information, like Neiv Languages, while Asleep
- Myth #22 During “Out-of-Body”Experiences, People’s Consciousness Leaves Their Bodies
6. I’VE GOT A FEELING
- Myth #23 The Polygraph (“Lie Detector”) Testis an Accurate Means of Detecting Dishonesty
- Myth #24 Happiness Is Determined Mostly by Our External Circumstances
- Myth #25 Ulcers Are Caused Primarily or Entirely by Stress
- Myth #26 A Positive Attitude Can Stave off Cancer
7. THE SOCIAL ANIMAL
- Myth #27 Opposites Attract: We Are Most Romantically Attracted to People Who Differ from Us
- Myth #28 There!s Safety in Numbers: The More People Present at an Emergency, the Greater the Chance that Someone Will Intervene
- Myth #29 Men and Women Communicate in Completely Different Ways
- Myth #30 It’s Better to Express Anger to Others than to Hold It in
8. KNOW THYSELF
- Myth #31 Raising Children Similarly Leads to Similarities in Their Adult Personalities
- Myth #32 The Fact that a Trait Is Heritable Means We can’t change it
- Myth #33 Low Self-Esteem Is a Major Cause of Psychological Problems
- Myth #34 Most People Who Were Sexually Abused in Childhood Develop Severe Personality Disturbances in Adulthood
- Myth #35 People’s Responses to Inkblots Tell Us a Great Deal about Their Personalities
- Myth #36 Our Handwriting Reveals Our Personality Traits
9. SAD, MAD, AND BAD
- Myth #37 Psychiatric Labels Cause Harm by Stigmatizing People
- Myth #38 Only Deeply Depressed People Commit Suicide
- Myth #39 People with Schizophrenia Have Multiple Personalities
- Myth #40 Adult Children of Alcoholics Display a Distinctive Profile of Symptoms
- Myth #41 There’s Recently Been a Massive Epidemic of Infantile Autism
- Myth #42 Psychiatric Hospital Admissions and Crimes Increase during Full Moons
10. DISORDER IN THE COURT
- Myth #43 Most Mentally III People Are Violent
- Myth #44 Criminal Profiling Is Helpful in Solving Cases
- Myth #45 A Large Proportion of Criminals Successfully Use the Insanity Defense
- Myth #46 Virtually All People Who Confess to a Crime Are Guilty of It
11. SKILLS AND PILLS
- Myth #47 Expert Judgment and Intuition Are the Best Means of Making Clinical Decisions
- Myth #48 Abstinence Is the Only Realistic Treatment Goal for Alcoholics Alcoholics
- Myth #49 All Effective Psychotherapies Force People to Confront the “Root” Causes of Their Problems in Childhood
- Myth #50 Electroconvulsive (“Shock”) Therapy Is a Physically Dangerous and Brutal