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

After five years and an amount of tuition money that will forever turn up in my nightmares, I am the proud holder of a psychology degree. It might not be the most practical degree, but it does have one benefit (other than the full-time, gainful employment it got me in my chosen field): it sometimes lets me know when strangers are wrong about things on the internet. 

It happens sometimes. Shocking, I know.

GENERALLY TRUE, actually. Robin Williams up there is the obvious example of a depressed comedian, but holy shit, comedy is filled with a lot of sad people. John Belushi, Mitch Hedberg and Chris Farley all met their ends at the bottom of a dimebag of narcotics, which generally isn't considered the happy person's after-dinner mint of choice. Jerry Lewis has an electronic chip implanted in his spine to prevent him from killing himself. Jerry Seinfeld has admitted that he constantly considers leaping from his 19th-story balcony. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have both struggled with post-partum depression. It's amazing that any of these people are able to draw from their life experiences to make comedy at all, because it seems like every single one of them is trapped in the 3rd act of their own personal Stephen King novel. 

Since I'm not writing for Natural News, however, I can't just rely on self-affirming anecdotes to prove the connection between comedy and endless despair. Scientists noticed how strange it was that famous comedians seemed to have a life expectancy of 33 years old, and did some actual research on the matter. Sure enough, comedians are score significantly higher on measures of depression and freaking psychosis, including impulsiveness, inability to feel pleasure, and just generally being an antisocial dick all the time. In my own undergraduate thesis, I actually studied the use of humor as a coping mechanism, because I'm a relatively funny person who has occasional lapses of just hating fucking everything. Sure enough, people who reported using humor to cope with their problems also reported being more likely to use substances for coping, and were more likely to be maladjusted and aggressive when faced with stress. 

I'd include a link to my published research for evidence, but I've been too busy writing comedy, warding off the ever-looming specter of existential despair and hurling emotional abuse at my kitchen appliances to actually publish it yet. Go figure.

FALSE. Like, obviously false. Why the shit would this be true? Can you imagine the insane circumstances that would make us evolve that way? Every feature of your body is how it is because tens of thousands of years ago, being built that way helped your ancestors survive and make strong babies. Your life-threatening hemophilia exists because your parents were brother and sister and now God is punishing you for their sins, but that's the only exception. In what possible world would early Man have survived better because his sadness tears came from the left, and his happy-fun-times tears came from the right? Did people who cried sadness tears from the right all get eaten by giant ground sloths? Why?

If there's one thing you should know about the human body, it's that Mother Nature does not give two bedazzled fucks about consistency. Like, your liver is generally supposed to be on the right side of your body, and your heart near the left, but sometimes they're on the opposite side for no fucking reason. You're supposed to have 24 ribs in your body, but around 0.7% of you are walking around with 25 or 26 ribs, just for funsies. Your ribs and liver are a pretty fucking huge deal for your general well-being; if the human body can't even get those right all the time, I guarantee you that it isn't assigning a specific tear duct for sadness. 

KIND OF. Again, this is technically true, but not in the way you might think. Sure, on the surface, it makes sense that the sort of person who enjoys listening to Goatwhore's classic album 'Carving Out the Eyes of God' is probably an entirely different person than the one who has Taylor Swift's '1989' on repeat. But that's not necessarily true - sometimes you're just in a T-Swift kind of mood, and from time to time, we all have Goatwhore days. No, this study looked at something way, way less interesting than the effects of pop vs. death metal - the effects of isolated musical intervals. 

Right now, right where you're sitting - and my blog traffic statistics suggest that about 40% of you are reading this on your smartphone on a public bus - hum the first two notes of the Simpsons theme song. Do you hear how weird those two notes sound together? That's called a tritone, and scientifically, it is one of the grossest-sounding chords to the human ear. Now hum the first few notes of the Star Wars theme song. Not the Imperial March, the other one. Or, if you're a different brand of nerd, you can hum the first two notes of the Harry Potter theme song. That interval is called a Perfect Fifth, and it's one of the most pleasing chords to the human ear. Researchers found that when people were forced to listen to one of those chords in isolation, people who heard tritones divided a list of items into fewer categories than people who heard perfect fifths, suggesting that they were thinking in broader, more creative terms

So if you've been making yourself listen to nothing but Enya and whale songs in the hopes of broadening your mind, you've been doing it all wrong. It's the Simpsons theme song you need. 

EHHHH. In science 'cause' is an awfully strong word. As is the phrase 'most of the time'. This charming image of a man trying to shit out his own kidneys is referring to a study by the University of British Columbia, which investigated a genetic mutation called the ADRA2b deletion variant. Quite of a few of you reading this will have that genetic mutation, but it doesn't mean that you're a fucking Eeyore all the time. People with the mutation still enjoy the good things in life - they're just more likely to spot dangers or the possibility for disaster where other people miss it. In other words, they're the ones shouting "watch out for the cliff, dumbass" while their idiot friends parade off it in their quest to enjoy the pretty scenery. 

NOT QUITE. For one thing, if I ask you to remember having lunch yesterday, that's probably the first time you've ever had to recall that event, so you're remembering the lunch itself, and not the last time you remembered it. But I'm splitting hairs. Large, insurmountable hairs that prove this factoid wrong by definition, but hairs nonetheless. 

Think back to your eighth birthday party, assuming your parents loved you enough to throw you one. Where did you have it? What did you do? Who was there? What did the cake look like? Are you sure you're not accidentally thinking of your seventh birthday? Or your ninth? And when was the last time you tried to remember your eighth birthday, anyway? Unless your eight birthday happened to be the day your whole family was murdered, and you replay it over and over again in your head each night as you train to become an animal-themed vigilante bent on vengeance, it's probably been a while since you thought of your eighth birthday party. In any case, it doesn't actually matter if you last thought of it when you were fifteen, or eight-and-a-half; human memory of events is reconstructive, and has nothing to do with the last time you remembered it

Despite popular belief, your memory doesn't work like a video camera. If you see a video in your head when you're asked to remember something, you should know that that video is written and produced by lies and cognitive biases. When you try to remember a long-ago event, like that fabled eighth birthday party, your brain will scramble to put together a reconstruction based on what probably happened. If you know you were living in a particular town at the time, then the party was probably in that town. If you know you were friends with a certain set of neighbourhood kids at the time, then it would make sense for them to be there. Your brain isn't playing back a recording, it's making a memory salad out of all the things it knows are probably true about the event. For the record, this is what makes eyewitness testimony about as reliable as goddamn psychic testimony; I can dramatically alter your own memories of an event, just by changing the way I ask you questions about it. If you were witness to a car accident and I ask you how fast the cars were going when they smashed into each other, you will remember a higher-speed collision than if I asked you about the cars' speed when they collided with each other. Likewise, if I ask you how much broken glass there was at the scene, you'll probably remember seeing some, even if there was no broken glass involved. 

NICE TRY. According to the actual study, this statement totally was true... if you're a time traveller from the end of the fucking Cold War. The study, which came out in the distant past of the year 2000, looked at anxiety in teenagers from the 1950s to the early 1990s and compared their anxiety to that of mental patients in the 1950s, because the suffering of people who lived under constant threat of icepick lobotomy is apparently the metric by which we measure stress. What they found was that teen stress only peaked above mental patient stress in the 1980s. Which makes sense, because once you get past the nostalgic allure of shoulder pads and using entire cans of hairspray at once, the 80s were a fucking ghastly time to be alive. 

There are two factors that roughly determine how stressed you're going to be in your life - your degree of social connectedness, and external stressors. Social connectedness plummeted from the 1950s to the 1980s as divorce rates increased and society stopped casting single mothers out into the Wastes, and no one seems to be quite sure if the introduction of social media is making this better or worse. So let's just look at external stress. Teenagers today are quick to point out that they're under a lot of pressure to succeed at school and keep the cyberbullying little shits in their life at bay, but look at teenagers in the 1980s. The Berlin wall was still up, the Cold War was in full swing, and there was still the lingering threat of nuclear apocalypse hanging over them. AIDS busted onto the scene and no one could figure out why the fuck everyone was dying. Crime rates were sky-high. Unemployment was sky-high. LGBT rights and awareness of mental illness were a distant fantasy. Wearing shoulder pads was a social and cultural obligation. It was a dark time all around. 

So the next time you see a teenage relative sharing this on Facebook, just start sending them article after article about Ronald Reagan's anti-communist raids. That'll totally make them feel better. 

TRUE. Why this fun fact would be presented in terms of groupings of Indian rupees is anyone's guess, but at the current exchange rate, that works out to be about $73,000 US dollars, or four wheelbarrows full of Canada's failing currency. The study that this image is referring to actually sets the bar at $75,000 per year, but it's close enough that I'll give them credit anyway. Because it's true. The more money you make, the happier you are - right until you hit that $75,000 mark. And it's not hard to see why. Unless you're reading this from the 90 square foot walk-in closet you sublet in Manhattan, most places will let you live pretty comfortably on $75,000 per year. It's enough money to pay your pills, pursue your hobbies, and eat at a restaurant that doesn't have a drive-through every now and then. And with the poverty line for a family of four sitting way, way down at $22k per year, you're far from poor.

After you've hit $75k, your overall happiness and satisfaction is pretty much down to your life circumstances; a man who enjoys his 78k-per-year job and loves his wife is going to be a lot happier than a man who fucking hates every soul-microwaving moment of his 250k-per-year job and locks himself in the wine cellar to get away from the psychotic, shrieking shrew he married. So the next time you're browsing Rich Kids of Instagram and you feel yourself getting jealous of a 17-year-old spraying $3000 champagne all over daddy's private jet, take comfort in the fact that they're spending forty-seven times as much money to end up just as miserable as you.

TRUE. At least, it's true if you're making a decision about money. If you've ever known a human being, you'll know that we all fucking suck at making decisions, especially decisions about money. We live in an economy that's based mostly on plastic and the mood swings of rich men who live in the desert, but our brains still think we're living ten thousand years in the past, trading pieces of goat corpses for sexual favors. As a result, we're extremely risk-adverse; when we're presented with a risk, we tend to focus way, way more on what we stand to lose than what we stand to gain. If I gave you a button that could give you a million dollars, but had a 1/50 chance of taking all your money and leaving you homeless, plenty of people wouldn't push the button, even though most of us stand to gain much more than we'd lose. For most people, the joy you think you'd feel at winning a million dollars just isn't as strong as the pain and horror you think you'd feel at finding yourself homeless. That emotional aversion to risk is what's kept our species alive for thousands of years - in caveman days, it wasn't a good idea to take a daring leap to bring down a mammoth, because even a thousand pounds of mammoth meat wasn't worth the risk that you'd break your ankle and your whole fucking family would starve. 

Thinking in a second language, on the other hand, puts a layer of distance between you and the decision you're making. You don't have that same ingrained emotional reaction that you do when you think in your native tongue, and you make decisions based more on rationality and logic. It's worth noting, however, that rational decisions aren't always better - rationally, you could save a lot of time, money and energy by taking your sick grandmother out behind the shed and shooting her, but your emotions try not to let you make decisions that Ted Bundy would approve of. 

Like, seven different kinds of FALSE. I scoured the internet for any glimmer of an actual scientific study that might have been twisted into this whopper, but the only thing I could come up with was this exact image vomited across six dozen sex blogs. But you don't really need a lot of science to figure out why this one is fake. For one, this might be the granddaddy of all email-forward fun facts, but the vast majority of people cannot lick their own elbows. The group of people who are best at licking their elbows are young children; they have flexible tendons and stumpy arms, but they're not generally known for their sexual curiosity. For another thing, none of these 'body ratio' fun facts ever turn out to be true. Mens' hand sizes are not correlated with their penis sizes. Women's breast sizes are not correlated with sexual responsiveness. And tongue lengths are not related to sexual curiosity. 

And in all honesty, if you're in a situation where you know the exact length of someone else's tongue, you probably already know exactly how sexually curious they are. Just saying. 

KIND OF. If your goal is to be happy, it doesn't really matter if you're friends with Mr. Rogers or Wednesday fucking Adams - what really matters is having friends in the first place. People who report being the happiest and most content also report having the largest circles of friends. Having social connections is so important, it's actually necessary for your happiness; there's a reason the mountain-dwelling cave hermits you see on the History Channel aren't exactly twirling around like Mary Poppins. And while it's true that happiness is contagious among friends - to some extent - having sad friends won't make you unhappy. Even if your friends don't sprinkle glitter and fart rainbows wherever they go, you'll still benefit from being friends with them. And considering the benefits of having friends include better health and freaking longer life, it's worth putting up with a bit of gloominess from time to time. 

What kinds of pseudoscience have you seen lurking on your Facebook feed? I'll be back with more in a few weeks!

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