For Real, Stop Learning About Human Psychology on Facebook (Part Two)

Last week, I stumbled on the motherlode of bad psychology information floating around my Facebook newsfeed. I went to school for a long time to study psychology. I have a full-time job in psychology. There are millions of people around the world who have been helped, directly or indirectly, by the field of psychology. And it's posts like this that convince the general public that psychology is nothing more than hypnotism and voodoo.

The original post was such a massive load of steaming bullshit that I had to break it into four smaller, equally steamy loads of bullshit to get through the whole thing. This is part two.

Origin of the original post.

I know it's awfully disappointing that psychology used to make astonishing claims about dream interpretation and subliminal messaging, when today it mainly just sits in the corner playing with graphs, but that's what happens when a scientific discipline grows up and gets a real job. The bullshitty email forwarders of the world don't seem to want to accept that human psychology is way more boring than you think it is, and so they twist scientific studies or straight-up invent facts to spread amongst their equally bullshitty friends. But no more. I am on the case.

Links will be scattered throughout the following post, but they'll be very hard to see, because I'm terrible at building websites. Let's jump right into it.

EHHHHH. This little factoid is lifted directly from a single study conducted in 2012, and saying that the brain "rewrites" boring speech to make it more interesting is like saying that vaccines give your immune system a really inspiring pep talk to fight disease. The end results are more or less the same, but it's a terrible way to say it. In order to make sense of how this actually works, you need to know a little more about the voice in your head. 

Specifically, here's what the study actually found out about that voice. Inside your head, there's a little voice that speaks to you when you read things. If I tell you to read the phrase "turn to page 394" in the voice of the late, great Alan Rickman, most of you can probably do it, even though there is probably not a tiny Alan Rickman living in your head. The voice in your head also pipes up when you hear speech. When you hear direct speech, like "Jane said, "I killed them all"", your brain is all about that shit. Loves it. Your inner voice pipes up and sings along to it. When you hear indirect speech, like "Jane said that she had killed them all", your brain is less excited about it. The inner voice pipes down. But when you hear monotonous speech, whether it's direct or indirect, your inner voice goes right off the rails and starts chattering to itself, because it has no arms and cannot stab itself to death as a means of escape. So you're not really 'rewriting' the speech into a fucking standup comedy routine - you're just sort of desperately drowning it out. 

KIND OF TRUE. Stress cardiomyopathy is absolutely a thing. Everyone reading this already knows that the daily stresses of life are slowly eating us from the inside out, until our bodies explode from the combined pressures of paying our student loans and remembering to say 'no' to crystal meth. Normally, you have to indulge in decades of crying about your mortgage into cartons of french fries and Jack Daniels before you start to see real damage to your body. But under the right conditions, a sudden shock can weaken your heart so much that it stops pumping blood effectively. And that's when you develop stress cardiomyopathy.

But the thing is, when doctors say this can be caused by a broken heart, they generally mean "the death of your long-term partner and fellow parent to your children". The 16-year-old girl in the photo who is dragging her fingernails through a heart-shaped blob of wet sidewalk chalk is not going to drop dead because sexy lip-ringed Jacob from English class asked her best friend out. The vast majority of patients are post-menopausal women who've experienced anything from the death of their beloved husband to a car accident to an over-enthusiastic surprise party. The 'broken heart' thing sounds nice, but any kind of stress will do; for some reason, your shitty, shitty heart decides to take a knee and you just get to have less blood coursing through your vital organs until it's done. 

The good news is, stress cardiomyopathy is rarely fatal. As long as you get proper healthcare and stop living in an open minefield, it'll clear up quick and you'll be no worse for wear.

GROSS OVERSIMPLIFICATION. I remember when this study came out in 2013, because every news publication written by or for millennials held it up with pride, shrieking "See, mom and dad? You think you're stressed with your mortgage and your car payments and your selflessly funding my education? Well, science says my life is way more stressful! I still can't decide which minor to declare and I have to come up with a steady stream of clever Tweets for my followers, so stick that up your stable, middle-class butts!"

But what's actually causing our age group the most stress? Finances, for one thing. Oh, and the fact that our parents raised us to believe that we could definitely grow up to be a combination world leader/astronaut/rock star if we just believed in ourselves and worked hard enough, and we're all wallowing in the resulting pits of individual failure. But you know what we're not stressed about? Fucking WWII. Or getting drafted into Vietnam. Or the constant threat of global nuclear annihilation. We might have the most stress of any age group, but compared to the rest of history, we're living under some of the lowest recorded stress levels ever for our demographic. Oh, and the reason your parents have less stress than you isn't because their lives are one extended waltz down Easy Street - as you age, your brain not only gets better at coping with stress, but it gets worse at recording negative emotions and experiences as a whole. Life still sucks, but you notice it less.

FALSE. This may come as a shock to everyone reading this, but we don't actually know what happens after you die. Sure, some people have reported something like this after a near-death experience - and I applaud them for their apparently meticulous timekeeping - but other people have reported having out-of-body experiences, or just seeing nothing at all. In the end, it doesn't matter, because you'll notice that none of those people actually died. What they went through might all just be the result of your dying brain gasping for oxygen. You'll just have to wait until your time is up to see for yourself, I guess - even if you're dying to know. Heh.

FALSE. I've searched high and low for any possible evidence of this, and the only things I can find are clickbaity websites and teen blogs parroting this exact quote, sometimes on top of this exact same image. I think this is a reference to the "White Bear Effect" - if I tell you not to think of a white bear, bam, it's pretty much impossible for your brain not to bombard you with images of white bears. Same thing works for your crush - the harder you try not to think about the way Jason's supple buttocks look in his sensible Old Navy khakis, the more eager your brain is to bombard you with thoughts of his tasty, tasty butt. It's just as true for lovesick 13-year-olds as it is for 80-somethings. Cognitive quirks get us all.

The only problem is, this image clearly isn't referencing the White Bear Effect, because it's talking about the duration of your unrequited love. It seems to be suggesting that your white-hot crush on that girl from gym class will only grow stronger with every day that you don't tell her how you feel. Which, if you think about it, is fucking crazy. I told you in the last post that humans are shitty at maintaining interest in things. Sure, there are some people out there who can hold onto a crush for an unwise amount of time, but for the most part, we get bored with things that don't meet our expectations. If you can get bored of a puppy that loves and interacts with you, then you're sure as hell going to get bored of a high school crush whom you've only ever observed through a locker room vent.

And if you're out of the hormonal high tide of your teenage years and you're still capable of hanging on to a crush for years and years, feeling your obsession burn hotter every day, then let me be the first to congratulate you on having internet access in your prison cell.

TRUE. But if you honestly believed that a muscular organ in your chest cavity was producing the sensations you associate with falling in love, you are either eight years old or beyond the help of this blog post.

NOT REALLY. I mean, it is true that some of the parts of your brain that deal with love can also give you obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it's fucking insane to suggest that these are the exact same sensation. As I mentioned in the last post, your brain doesn't have a whole lot of real estate for all the things it's expected to do; if you had one dedicated area for every single function you need, you'd have a head the size of a fucking beach ball. You have a tiny piece of brain called the hypothalamus that is responsible for regulating both body growth and predator fear responses, but that doesn't mean that growing an inch taller is biochemically identical to shitting yourself when you see a bear.

And yeah, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and love have some things in common. In both cases, you'll find thoughts popping into your head uninvited from time to time. With love, they're pleasant thoughts about the object of your affection. With obsessive compulsive disorder, they could be anywhere from a pathological fixation with the number 3, to a screaming siren in your head that tells you left the stove on and will single-handedly burn down the neighbourhood, to vivid, colourful fantasies of murdering your whole fucking family in cold blood. Yeah, suddenly your fixation on that hot girl who'll never notice you doesn't seem so bad.

FALSER than your gluten intolerance. This would have been respected psychological advice back in the day when icepicks were considered surgical instruments and chaining the mentally ill to the floor was sound medical practice, but things are different now. At best, some of the world's fruitier psychologists will argue that dreams can have meaning sometimes, maybe, if they're particularly disturbing or related to a past trauma. Meanwhile, the world's neuroscientists argue that your dreams are just the meaningless byproduct of your brain keeping the engine running while you sleep, so to speak, producing random images and sensations. Either way, there's no probably no hidden meaning in that dream you had last night about eating Fruit Loops with a giraffe. 

Wasn't this already covered in the last postTRUE, for the most part. It's like that OCD/love debacle I talked about earlier - sometimes, your brain comes up short-staffed and starts delegating multiple tasks to the same chunk of brain-flesh. In this case, your brain seems to have one general area that acts as an "AHHHHH, WE'RE IN DISTRESS" alarm, and then other parts of your brain figure out what kind of pain you're in. So yeah, rejection hurts, but is it literally the same as "severed a limb in a grain thresher' hurts? Personally, I'd rather not find out. 

What Tumblr nonsense is this? FALSE. There are so many reasons to be thinking of someone before you fall asleep that I'd give myself carpal tunnel writing them all down. Maybe you're thinking of your mom, because you haven't talked to her in a while. Maybe you're thinking of your best friend because you can't figure out what to get them for their birthday. Maybe you're thinking of your dog because they won't stop farting in your fucking face. Maybe you're thinking of your high school boyfriend because you're happy that the cops never found his corpse beneath your shed. Not even the teenage protagonist of a John Green novel is this predictably angsty. Nice try, shitty internet fun facts. Nice try.

I've got two more batches of this bullshit left to go before regular posts can resume! Look for more next week.  

1 comment

  1. There's shocking news in the sports betting industry.

    It's been said that any bettor needs to look at this,

    Watch this or quit placing bets on sports...

    Sports Cash System - Robotic Sports Betting Software.


Back to Top