Psychology is one of the disciplines about which more myths circulate , partly because its subject of study is interesting for the general public and partly because, given the versatility of mental processes, all kinds of bizarre theories about how our brain works can be “invented”.

Myths of modern psychology

In this chapter we’ll go over some of the most widespread myths in psychology and see why they are false.

1. Dreams have a hidden meaning

One of the most widespread ideas about how mental processes work is that dreams have a way of being interpreted that portrays our way of thinking , our fears and our desires.

This myth, which drinks directly from the psychoanalytical theories born with Sigmund Freud, is based only on beliefs that have not been proven, so there is no reason to assume that dreams mean something specific beyond the interpretation that each person wants to give them based on their own creative power.

2. Most psychological problems are solved by expressing them

It is very common to think that the task of psychotherapists is simply to be there to listen to the problems that the patient tells them , and that the fact of expressing these problems verbally produces a feeling of well-being that is the basis of the solution offered by psychology.

However, we must not forget that many of the reasons why people go to the psychologist have to do with objective and concrete material factors that are not going to disappear just because they are talked about. Situations of family tension, eating disorders, gambling addiction, phobias… all of them exist because there is a dynamic of interaction between the person and the elements of his environment that reproduces itself and is maintained over time, regardless of the way in which the person experiences it or interprets it

3. There is a rational and an emotional brain

Also there is the myth that inside our head there are two superimposed brains: a rational brain and an emotional one . This has a small part of truth, since the areas of the brain closest to the brainstem and the limbic system intervene more directly in the mental processes related to emotional states if we compare them with areas of the surface of the brain such as the frontal lobe, but it is still a simplification.

What really happens is that all parts of the brain are working together both in those processes related to the emotional and those related to “rational” thinking, to the point that it is virtually impossible to know if a pattern of activation of neurons is rational or emotion-based.

4. We use only 10% of the brain

This myth enjoys great popularity, and yet it is absurd in several ways . In the first place, when we talk about this hidden potential of 10% of our brain, we often confuse, with interest, the statements based on the material (the way our body really works) with those referring to our “hidden potential” as something more abstract and based on the philosophy of life that we follow.

This makes it easy to “throw the stone and hide the hand”, i.e. to assert things supposedly based on scientific knowledge and, when questioned, to pass them off as simply ideas about the life worth living, the way we can find ourselves, etc.

To learn more about why everything we know about brain functioning contradicts the 10% myth, you can read this article.

5. Subliminal messages make you buy things

The idea that an advertising team can make us feel the urge to buy a particular product by introducing some “hidden” frames in a video or some letters in an image has not only not been proven, but is based on an experiment, that of James Vicary and the Coca-Cola , which never came into existence as such, as Vicary himself admitted.

6. Interpreting someone’s drawings serves to evaluate their personality

Analyzing people’s drawings is only useful when exploring very specific diseases, such as heminegligence , in which the left half of what is perceived is ignored (and therefore the left side of the drawings is left unfinished). In other words, projective tests such as those in which the drawings made by someone are analysed are not useful for evaluating details about people’s personality and, beyond individual opinions about the therapists who apply them under the magnifying glass of studies that analyse a multitude of results have never been shown to be effective .

The meta-analyses that have been carried out on these tests point to their little or no usefulness, among other things because there is no single way in which a drawing can be interpreted: for some reason it is a product of creativity and therefore escapes preconceived schemes.

7. Hypnosis allows you to control someone’s will

Hypnosis seems to be little less than a magical power that makes someone trained in these techniques able to handle other people’s bodies at will, but reality is far from this marketinian and spectacular vision.

The truth is that hypnosis is fundamentally based on suggestion and the degree to which the person is willing to participate in the technique. Someone who does not want to be hypnotized will not be influenced by hypnosis.

8. Personality is assigned during youth

It is true that the first years of development are fundamental and that the things that happen to us in them can leave an imprint that is difficult to erase in terms of the way we act and perceive things, but this should not be exaggerated.

Important aspects of personality may continue to change once adolescence and young adulthood are behind us in a similar way to what happens to Walter White in Breaking Bad (although not always for the worse, of course). After all, our brain is constantly changing depending on what we are experiencing, even in old age.