Popular Myths in Psychology

Instructions: Follow the tabs to improve your reading comprehension and language development.

Consider the following questions before going on to read and check
  1. Is finding the truth easier today than it was in the past?
  2. Do you think psychology students can recognize myths better than the general population?
  3. Are you more likely to believe something untrue when you are angry or in a bad mood?
  4. Are men attracted to women who ‘play hard to get’? (i.e. the woman pretends not to like the man)
Popular myths in psychology

In a world where new information is available at such a fast pace, misinformation about psychological discoveries abounds. Lilienfeld et al. (2010) suggest that we are bombarded with new ‘facts’ about psychological processes and discoveries through not only the internet, but mass media sources such as self-help books, magazines, Hollywood blockbusters and newspapers. Given that we now live in a world where the sheer volume of information at our fingertips can make searching for the truth difficult, it is ever more important to employ our critical thinking skills, and to not believe everything we read, see or hear. Indeed, research by Furnham and Hughes (2014) suggests that undergraduate psychology students can recognise myths better than the general population; however, the small effect size suggests that education only has a modest influence on our understanding of psychological myths and misconceptions. It also highlights how important it is to process material at a deep rather than shallow level and how susceptible we are to misinformation or hoaxes shared millions of times over via various online social media platforms. For example, Weeks (2015) examined why people believe fake news and how our emotions can play a role in how we interpret political misperceptions. Weeks showed that people are more susceptible to fake news when feeling angry whereas people who feel anxious are more open-minded to views outside their political beliefs. Weeks argued that although political views and emotions both influence whether or not people believe fake news, presenting fact checking information alongside fake news helps to minimise the chances of people believing a myth to be true.

Consider whether you have ever received advice about a multiple-choice test that goes along the lines of ‘if you are unsure of your answer, you should stick with your initial gut feeling’. Lilienfeld et al. (2010) cite a large body of evidence that refutes this claim, and conclude that if we have good reason to believe that our first hunch is wrong, then it probably is. Have you ever heard the rumour that ‘playing hard to get’ is the best way to attract a mate? Wrong again, with research cited by Lilienfeld et al. (2010) suggesting that, at least for heterosexual men, the preference is for women who are open to their advances. As a final example, has someone ever shown you the popular animation of a ballerina turning en pointe (figure 2.7), touting it as a way that you can work out if you are a ‘left-brained’ person or a ‘rightbrained’ person? Again, current research suggests that while the left and right hemispheres of the brain are indeed responsible for different processes, the brain works in an integrated fashion — and, as such, the evidence does not hold that some people are right-brained and others are left-brained (Lilienfeld et al., 2010).

Apply and Discuss

Now it’s your turn to test yourself on the topic of psychology and decide whether various concepts are
myth or psychological fact. Go to
to test yourself. Good luck! Be sure to share your results with your fellow classmates.


Burton, Lorelle J. (2018). Psychology, 5th Australian and New Zealand Edition. Wiley.