50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior / Edition 1

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50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology uses popular myths as a vehicle for helping students and laypersons to distinguish science from pseudoscience.

  • Uses common myths as a vehicle for exploring how to distinguish factual from fictional claims in popular psychology
  • Explores topics that readers will relate to, but often misunderstand, such as 'opposites attract', 'people use only 10% of their brains', and 'handwriting reveals your personality'
  • Provides a 'mythbusting kit' for evaluating folk psychology claims in everyday life
  • Teaches essential critical thinking skills through detailed discussions of each myth
  • Includes over 200 additional psychological myths for readers to explore
    Contains an Appendix of useful Web Sites for examining psychological myths
  • Features a postscript of remarkable psychological findings that sound like myths but that are true
  • Engaging and accessible writing style that appeals to students and lay readers alike
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Written in an accessible and entertaining style, the book examines a wide range of myths from all areas of psychology. . . Accordingly, the book is a much-needed antidote to the avalanche of misinformation that masquerades as psychology and should be required reading for anyone with a passing interest in psychology or, for that matter, the human condition." (Department of Psychology, 1 June 2011)

"Not only does the book illustrate just how often our intuitions are wrong, it also shows us how - in comparison to the truth - uninteresting they are. Shallow judgments imply over-confidence, assumption and monotomy. Assuming that you know something prior to giving any consideration to where that knowledge comes from is a mistake for many reasons but perhaps most of all because such presumption precludes surprise. To be surprised - shocked, provoked, scandalized - is a pleasure. . . 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology tells us that we need urgently to deal with our tendency to judge books by their covers. And just maybe, rather than considering any idealistic appeal to our rationalism, we should deal with this problem by considering an inversion similar to Kubrick's: for now at least, when it comes to presenting discoveries about the mind, we ought not to try in vain to change our nature - our tendency towards prejudice - but instead do something simpler: tell better stories, and design better covers." (The Skeptic, 2011)

"As you can tell from my reactions above I found this a very informative book and I'm only touching on particular things with my comments. If you're a writer, this book should be read post-haste so you don't keep repeating things you thought were true and obviously aren't. For everyone else, the revelations should make you sit up and take heed of what not to be taken in by." (SFCrowsnest.co.uk, 1 May 2011)

"This would be an ideal book to have in offices where people have to spend some time waiting for appointments." (Education Digest, November 2010)

"This book would suit educators involved in study skills and critical thinking courses who might be looking for some new angles with which to update or spruce up their courses. It should be equally digestible to the A-level student and the first-year undergraduate." (PLATH, December 2010)

"I love 50 Great Myths and used it in my winter seminar. This should be on every psychologist's shelf." (Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, October 2010)

"This is a refreshing and fun look at many of the concepts that have been accepted as fact by our popular culture." (Book End Babes, September 01, 2010)

"At the end of each sub-section covering an individual myth is a list of anti-factoids about related matters and their factual antidotes. By this means a considerable range of topics is covered." (Education Review, July 2010)

"Maybe we should pay more attention to books like 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Nature. The four psychology professors who authored this enlightening book are up against the roughly 3,500 self-help titles, a lot of them based on false premises, that are published in the U.S. every year." (Poe'sDeadly Daughters, April 2010)

"Scott Lilienfeld and his team ... have a history in delving into the dark myths of science, and pseudoscience ... .They are back. As with their other works, these authors manage to write well for ease of reading so many facts, and do so with their characteristic humor and cutting edge science. This book is [an] illumination, and vital reading for professionals and even laymen." (Metapsychology, June 2010)

"Who should read this book? Anyone interested in psychology and or the scientific method. The book is written in an easy to read fashion, is well referenced and includes a wide array of topics. The book teaches the value of critical thinking, and tells us it's all right to question authority. In conclusion, 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology is a must read for psychology majors, therapists and anyone who wishes to gain knowledge about the diverse field of psychology. I wish this book was available when I was studying psychology in college." (Basil & Spice (Jamie Hale), May 2010)

"Popular psychology is a prolific source of myths. A new book does an excellent job of mythbusting: 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. Some myths I had swallowed whole and the book's carefully presented evidence made me change my mind. They cover 50 myths in depth, explaining their origins, why people believe them, and what the published research has to say about the claims. Everything is meticulously documented with sources listed. The authors have done us a great service by compiling all this information in a handy, accessible form, by showing how science trumps common knowledge and common sense, and by teaching us how to question and think about what we hear. I highly recommend it." (Dr. Harriet Hall for Skeptic Magazine, February 2010, and ScienceBasedMedicine.org, November 2009)

"50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology is written in an engaging style and is valuable for both professionals and the general public. I highly recommend it." (Skeptical Inquirer, February 2010)

"Delightful and important book ... .This is a fine tool for teaching critical thinking. 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology is much more than an entertaining put-down of popular misconceptions. Any psychologist can put [this book] to good use. Certainly teachers can use it as a supplement to aid in teaching critical thinking and to suggest ideas for research on other myths.We can give it to family members and friends who are curious about what psychology has to contribute and might themselves engage in some myth busting." (PsycCritiques, January 2010)

"If you are familiar with other books by the same authors, you know that the writing style is incredibly engaging and easy-to-read, making the book accessible to those with little knowledge of psychology and well as those with considerable education in the field. While we certainly won't stop combating clinical psychology myths here at PBB, it's always exciting to come across like-minded folks also providing valuable material!" (Psychotherapy Brown Bag, October 2009)

"50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology is a fascinating book, and while reading, I cheered the authors on. If you have questioned science as some of us have, this book will reassure you that your thinking was perfectly logical and correct. 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology clarifies things about which I have always wondered, but never challenged. Myths about aging, memory, learning, emotions and motivation, and mental illness are among the subjects covered. The reading is enlightening, refreshing and interesting.You don't have to be a Ph.D, or even a student of psychology to enjoy this book. It's is written in language all can understand and the information is easily digested." (Basil & Spice, October 2009)

"Scott Lilienfeld and his coauthors explore the gulf between what millions of people say is so and the truth. Some of these myths are just plain fascinating." (US News and World Report, October 2009)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781405131117
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 2/16/2010
  • Series: Great Myths of Psychology Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 354
  • Sales rank: 409,429
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Scott O. Lilienfeld is a Professor of Psychology at Emory University. 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 APA, past president of the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology, and a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science. Dr. Lilienfeld's principal areas of research are personality disorders, psychiatric classification and diagnosis, pseudoscience in mental health, and the teaching of psychology.

Steven Jay Lynn is a Professor of Psychology at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He is past President of the APA’s Division of Psychological Hypnosis, and the recipient of the Chancellor's Award of the SUNY for Scholarship and Creative Activities. His major areas of research include hypnosis and memory.

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.

Barry Beyerstein (the late) was Professor of Psychology at Simon Fraser University and chair of the British Columbia Skeptics Society. He was Associate Editor of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, and he co-authored many articles in the Skeptical Inquirer and professional journals.

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Table of Contents




The Wide World of Psychomythology.

1 Brain Power.

Myths about the Brain and Perception.

#1 Most People Use Only 10% of Their Brain Power.

#2 Some People Are Left-Brained, Others Are Right-Brained.

#3 Extrasensory Perception Is a Well-Established Scientific Phenomenon.

#4 Visual Perceptions Are Accompanied by Tiny Emissions from the Eyes.

#5 Subliminal Messages Can Persuade People to Purchase Products.

2 From Womb to Tomb.

Myths about Development and Aging.

#6 Playing Mozart's Music to Infants Boosts Their Intelligence.

#7 Adolescence Is Inevitably a Time of Psychological Turmoil.

#8 Most People Experience a Midlife Crisis in Their 40s or Early 50s.

#9 Old Age Is Typically Associated with Increased Dissatisfaction and Senility.

#10 When Dying, People Pass through a Universal Series of Psychological Stages.

3 A Remembrance of Things Past.

Myths about Memory.

#11 Human Memory Works like a Tape Recorder or Video Camera, and Accurately Records the Events We've Experienced.

#12 Hypnosis is Useful for Retrieving Memories of Forgotten Events.

#13 Individuals Commonly Repress the Memories of Traumatic Experiences.

#14 Most People with Amnesia Forget All Details of Their Earlier Lives.

4 Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks.

Myths about Intelligence and Learning.

#15 Intelligence Tests Are Biased against Certain Groups of People.

#16 If You're Unsure of Your Answer When Taking a Test, It's Best to Stick with Your Initial Hunch.

#17 The Defining Feature of Dyslexia Is Reversing Letters.

#18 Students Learn Best When Teaching Styles Are Matched to Their Learning Styles.

5 Altered States.

Myths about Consciousness.

#19 Hypnosis Is a Unique "Trance" State that Differs in Kind from Wakefulness.

#20 Researchers Have Demonstrated that Dreams Possess Symbolic Meaning.

#21 Individuals Can Learn Information, like New Languages, while Asleep.

#22 During "Out-of-Body" Experiences, People's Consciousness Leaves Their Bodies.

6 I've Got a Feeling.

Myths about Emotion and Motivation.

#23 The Polygraph ("Lie Detector") Test Is an Accurate Means of Detecting Dishonesty.

#24 Happiness Is Determined Mostly by Our External Circumstances.

#25 Ulcers Are Caused Primarily or Entirely by Stress.

#26 A Positive Attitude Can Stave off Cancer.

7 The Social Animal.

Myths about Interpersonal Behavior.

#27 Opposites Attract: We Are Most Romantically Attracted to People Who Differ from Us.

#28 There's Safety in Numbers: The More People Present at an Emergency, the Greater the Chance that Someone Will Intervene.

#29 Men and Women Communicate in Completely Different Ways.

#30 It’s Better to Express Anger to Others than to Hold It in.

8 Know Thyself.

Myths about Personality.

#31 Raising Children Similarly Leads to Similarities in Their Adult Personalities.

#32 The Fact that a Trait Is Heritable Means We Can't Change It.

#33 Low Self-Esteem Is a Major Cause of Psychological Problems.

#34 Most People Who Were Sexually Abused in Childhood Develop Severe Personality Disturbances in Adulthood.

#35 People's Responses to Inkblots Tell Us a Great Deal about Their Personalities.

#36 Our Handwriting Reveals Our Personality Traits.

9 Sad, Mad, and Bad.

Myths about Mental Illness.

#37 Psychiatric Labels Cause Harm by Stigmatizing People.

#38 Only Deeply Depressed People Commit Suicide.

#39 People with Schizophrenia Have Multiple Personalities.

#40 Adult Children of Alcoholics Display a Distinct Profile of Symptoms.

#41 There's Recently Been a Massive Epidemic of Infantile Autism.

#42 Psychiatric Hospital Admissions and Crimes Increase during Full Moons.

10 Disorder in the Court.

Myths about Psychology and the Law.

#43 Most Mentally Ill People Are Violent.

#44 Criminal Profiling Is Helpful in Solving Cases.

#45 A Large Proportion Of Criminals Successfully Use the Insanity Defense.

#46 Virtually All People Who Confess to a Crime Are Guilty of It.

11 Skills and Pills.

Myths about Psychological Treatment.

#47 Expert Judgment and Intuition Are the Best Means of Making Clinical Decisions.

#48 Abstinence Is the Only Realistic Treatment Goal for Alcoholics.

#49 All Effective Psychotherapies Force People to Confront the "Root" Causes of Their Problems in Childhood.

#50 Electroconvulsive ("Shock") Therapy Is a Physically Dangerous and Brutal Treatment.


Truth is Stranger than Fiction.


Recommended Websites for Exploring Psychomythology.



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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2010


    I am immensely enjoying this book, even if I have to rush through it during the break between semesters!

    The introduction provided interesting background material on how mental health myths began. However, the first several myths have also demonstrated the negative impact of stigma and its sustainability over so many years based on societal views. I have decided that knowing how they began, and the significance of what they infer to others, is important in order to combat their negative influence.

    I definitely recommend this book to anyone working within the mental health field, but also to those who have a general interest in how myths and legends begin, as well as sorting out the truth from the falsehoods.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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