10 Myths About the Human Brain and Why You Should Know About Them

In this TED talk, Ben Ambridge addresses 10 popular myths about the human brain that many of us still hear consistently or even still believe. We see them all the time, on clickbait articles, on buzzfeed quizzes, in films and television, in books, and sometimes even in classes. Continuing to perpetuate these myths and misconceptions of human psychology is not only irresponsible, but ultimately damaging to our societal perceptions of psychology and difficult topics like intelligence, gender, and mental illness.

So, first, what myths does Ambridge target? Ambridge talks about the myths of,

  1. Women are from Venus and men are from Mars (gender differences)
  2. Rorschach ink blot tests
  3. Auditory, kinesthetic, and visual learners
  4. Left brain vs right brain learners
  5. Listening to Mozart makes you smarter
  6. Attraction is a product of our cultures
  7. The ‘Hot Hand’ myth
  8.  The Milgam Study
  9.  Detecting lies from body language
  10. Psychology is nothing more than a collection of theories, all of which have something to offer towards the truth of psychology

So what does all of this even mean? Why are these myths? We’ve all heard most of them, even from well educated individuals. Let’s break them down.

Ambridge quickly summarizes the differences between men and women as, there are some minute differences, but overall, they just don’t really matter. Some women are better with linguistics and grammar than men, and some men are more physically strong and accurate than women, but the difference is so small. Overall, we’re not very different, just because of our gender.

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Credits to Esther Lobo

Rorschach ink blot tests, while fun, ultimately cannot and are not used to diagnose mental illnesses or personality disorders. Just because you see a duck but they see a rabbit, doesn’t really mean anything. Off topic for a moment, have you ever taken a Rorschach test? I recall being tested when I was very, very little, as criteria to be accepted into a special preschool program. I couldn’t tell you what I tested or why they were using a Rorschach test!

The third is one I feel we’ve all heard at one point or another, and have even likely been taught this by a teacher. In more than one class, I had teachers ask, or ‘test’ us, on what our best leaning style was. As it turns out, ultimately, it really doesn’t matter what your preferred learning style is. It depends more on the skill you are attempting to learn. As Ambridge notes, it would be very difficult to read or listen to a tape on how to drive, rather than learn it by actually driving. So, future teachers, take note!

While Ambridge does tell us that there is some evidence to support that left handed individuals are more creative, and the right brain does fire a bit more for them, it is not because the right brain is more creative and the left brain is more logical. We use our entire brain constantly, for every activity we do. Even when the corpus callosum (the bit of brain that connects the two hemispheres and allows them to communicate) is severed, we still use our entire brain to perform tasks. The actual reason that left brained individuals tend to be more creative may be that they are typically more ambidextrous than right handers, because they often have to function in a predominantly right handed world. As a result, the two hemispheres of their brain may be communicating more than someone who is not ambidextrous.

As it turns out, listening to Mozart, or any classical music, really doesn’t make you any smarter. It actually depends on what you enjoy. Ambridge comments on a research study in which one group listened to Mozart, and one group listened to Stephen King novels. It didn’t really matter which one was listened to if they did not enjoy it, as it did not benefit them in the long run, but if they had listened to Mozart and really enjoyed it, the test scores were higher. So, lesson learned, do what you like to do before a big test!

While some traits of sexual, romantic, and aesthetic attraction can be rooted in our own cultures (do you like blonds or brunets? Tall or short? Dark or fair?) preferences for age, and the value of physical attraction were a universal constant when studied.

In sports like basketball, there is the myth of the ‘hot hand’, or the idea that someone can be really on or off their game by how many shots they make or miss. It’s very similar to when we flip a coin and begin to believe that we are seeing more heads than tails, and that we will always see more heads than tails. It’s really more a product of randomness, and even though it seems as though a player may be making many more shots than they usually are, it isn’t actually true.

Ah, the Milgram study. As Ambridge comments, if you’re a psychology student (as I am) you’ve heard of this study. The standard telling and retelling of the Milgram Study is that the participants believe the shocks they were sending would be fatal, and they delivered the shocks because the person in the white lab coat told them to. However, the truth is that the participants were told many times that the shocks were not fatal and that they would have no permanent damaging affects, the lab coats were actually gray, and the participants delivered the shocks, not because the lab coats were telling them to, but because they believed they were helping the study and doing what they were supposed to be doing.

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Although you may believe that when someone blinks when they lie, or crosses their arms, or looks away, the truth is that many people do not have a tell and most cannot perceive any real change when they are lying, if there is one. Sorry, Sherlock.

And lastly, the most important, the reason why we cannot perpetuate or believe these myths any longer, and why we study psychology. We test, measure, and replicate data in order to get tangible results. Very little about psychology is truly a ‘theory’ in the sense that we cannot test it or replicate our results. What we know about psychology today is based on scientific research and data that can back up and support our conclusions.

By keeping the idea that psychology is comprised of out-dated pseudosciences, we also keep the idea within our society that mental health and mental illness are not to be taken seriously, as well as the idea that psychology isn’t important. This is why, even in the modern, 21st century when we have so much data to back up and show that mental illnesses like depression exist, people still say ‘suck it up’ or ‘you’re faking’.

By keeping these myths in motion, we cannot help ourselves learn and succeed, and we certainly cannot help others. When we learn about our own psychological processes and how to understand what’s really going on, is when we can actually teach and learn about ourselves.

 

 

What to learn with my time?

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With out independent projects, we have the opportunity to learn something outside of the class with our free time. I took a while to think about what I wanted to learn in the past, and if that was something I could do now. I have my grandpa’s acoustic, electric, and steel guitars, and I have wanted to learn how to play them, but I have unfortunately left them in South Dakota. I tried learning how to crochet last year, but another student was using that as their independent learning project! So, for a while, I was at a loss.

I knew I wanted to have something physical as an end result, something that would be ultimately satisfying to have when everything is finished. For example, when I did my quilt several years ago, having the final, physical product was incredible to have and to look at. Not only that, but it was useful (it’s on my bed right now). Woodwork and carpentry is a skill I would like to learn in the future, as several in my family have learned and used what they have learned, but it was ultimately an unrealistic goal for the time being.

Then, I remembered that I had been seeing posts of cross stitch recently, and loving the way it looked. The work that some people had done looked amazing, but I felt it was something I couldn’t learn, or something that would be far too difficult for me. Luckily, I steeled myself and went down to the store, got all of my supplies, and started learning immediately. So far, I have really enjoyed the craft, and it isn’t at all as hard as I had imagined in my mind. It’s a lot of work, and can be frustrating at times, but thankfully, it’s something I can do when watching netflix or listening to music.

This was something I could kind of do when I was making my quilt, but it’s very hard to sit on the couch with a giant table, sewing machine, and chunks of fabric everywhere. Because of this, cross stitching has so far gone by very quickly for me, and I’m already getting to see the fruits of my labor. I’m hoping to finish the entire piece before the end of the semester, and perhaps even try counted cross stitch, instead of stamped patterns, like this one. So, wish me luck!

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How the final product is supposed to look.

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‘Hackschooling’ is the education every kid deserves

In the above video, Logan LaPlante argues for the idea of ‘hackschooling’ vs a traditional education. So, just what is hackschooling? LaPlante explains the method as a hands on learning style, that allows the student to take charge of their education and learn in a way that suits them best. By hackschooling, LaPlante explains that he is able to get rid of writing about things that don’t matter to him and doing away with bland writing assignments in favor of writing about something that interests him. This way, he is excited about the assignment and learns to appreciate and understand writing, rather than being immediately bored with the work, and hating writing as a result.

By abandoning traditional education, LaPlante remarks that he has had a far more rich and rewarding education. He has learned to build a Newton’s cradle to understand physics, learned survival techniques as a part of his physical education, and has built his own curriculum to study the same things every kid learns, but better. By using this creative and free form learning, LaPlante learns in a way that is best for him and his learning style. This way, he stays interested and involved in his education, and learns a myriad of additional skills as well.

I can see the benefits of this type of education almost immediately, and it is certainly the education I wish I could have had growing up. It is no secret that our education system is outdated, and does not fit many kids’ learning styles. Instead of being excited and interested in their education, it makes things scary, boring, and confusing. If we had all had the opportunity to write about things we loved, there would be a lot more creative individuals with a love for writing. If we all learned to spend time in the outdoors and learn survival techniques, far more of us would be innovative, resourceful, and interested in their physical health, rather than remembering times we ran 20 laps around the school gym.

Being able to try new things, try everything, not only shapes our education to our needs and makes us well rounded, but it also gives us the confidence to try new things, to make mistakes, and to be involved in our own education. It is my opinion that this is the education that every child deserves. Not sitting in a desk for 7 hours, watching powerpoints, filling out assignment papers, and taking test after test. We unrealistically expect every child to be able to fit the mold perfectly, and for the system to work perfectly for every student. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

It kills creativity, it kills interest, and even intelligent kids that are excited and interested in their education slowly become worn down and sick of the education system. By doing this, we become drones, just trying to shuffle along from class to class, to fill out all our assignments and memorize all of the necessary information to get the right grade on our tests. This in no way prepares us for the real world, or for our future jobs. In fact, we lose many of the most valuable skills that our employers are looking for by the time we pass through the traditional education system.

Hackschooling is certainly a method of teaching and learning that has the potential to drastically change our education system, as well as change people for the future. We are already aware that our educational system is worn down and out of date, so why not transition to something more modern and realistic like hackschooling?

5 Things About Myself (The Learner)

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Me when I was 7, at my first Huskers game in 2000

I’ll start positive, so we get the good things out there before the bad things. One of the things that has molded me as a learner is my early years of learning. I was very lucky to be involved in great school programs when I was young, including being a peer mentor in preschool, and going to an all day kindergarten. When I was in the all day kindergarten, I got to stay in class with 1st graders and learn everything they did, except I wasn’t necessarily expected to retain everything. I definitely defied expectations. I loved learning and my teacher, Ms. Chapel (I will always remember her) was amazing. She encouraged all of us to learn and do our best, while being very patient and kind with us. I was immediately in love with learning because of her. I learned to read pretty quickly and was on par with any of the 1st graders I was paired with. It was a pretty good year of school.

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High School Graduation 2012

Let’s switch to bad, just to shake it up. Jump forwards to my senior year of high school, where I learned about knowing your own limits. I certainly did, although a bit too late; and it took a while for the lesson to stick. I had decided I wanted to get a jump start on some college credit, and took 3 AP classes, on top of volleyball, cheer, golf, senior project, theatre, honor society, volunteering, band, student council, and applying to schools. I was already dealing with a lot of turmoil and stress the year before, and adding all of this mess on top didn’t do myself any favors. I dove headfirst into a terrible depression (that I didn’t have diagnosed for a year or treated for a year and a half) paired along with an extreme anxiety disorder. I failed 1 of my AP classes, dropped one, and managed to get a D in the last one. I almost didn’t graduate. I learned a more personal lesson this time, that I needed to pace myself, take care of myself, and that I didn’t need to try to impress anyone or be a star pupil to just be a good student. I’m still struggling with that last one.

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Patience was also learned in the form of my senior project…a LOT of patience.

Flopping back to elementary school, I took AR tests and reading level tests, as I’m sure many of you did too. Those were the highlight of those years for me. I loved to read, and getting points, getting prizes for it was just incredible in my eye. I honestly probably read half the library in my elementary school. I got to a point where all there was to read were magazines or textbooks. I was racking up around 400+ AR points every year. Talk about an addiction, I’m not convinced I didn’t have one. I learned how to read, how to analyze what I had read, and how to think a little about what I was reading.

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Aaron Rosenblatt Rapid City Journal (2012)

In 8th grade, I was blessed with another amazing English teacher (I’ve had so many), Mrs. Angel. What an accurate name. She was amazingly sweet and fun in the best way. She played classical music when we took tests or read and I still have most of the pieces memorized. Middle school was horrible, but she was the highlight of my day, every day. We wrote in her class nearly every day. She would give us free form prompts to finish for tests, and let us use our own imaginations for papers and assignments. We read a lot of classics, a lot of poetry, and I really enjoyed myself. I learned how to expand my writing and explore my own thoughts by writing.

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St. Mary Catholic School (my elementary school)

The last, and most recent, of my learning experiences has been this last semester. I took my first creative writing class and loved it so, so much. I learned about the fundamentals of creative writing and really grew as a writer. I would love to publish a novel someday, maybe start a series of my own. Making money as a writer would definitely be incredible. Taking classes like this is something that gets me closer to that goal, and improves my skills as a thinker.