Myths That Need Busting

by Stephen Mills on May 30, 2010


Here are some common myths that are widely believed, but simply don’t stand up when put to the test.  You may not agree that these are myths, but that’s normal.  We tend to believe what we want to believe and what we intuitively feel should be true.  I’d rather go with the evidence and the following are some beliefs that I am convinced are myths.

Parents Have a Big Impact on How Their Children Turn Out

Actually parents get far too much credit and far too much blame.  They have much less influence than almost anyone believes.  The exception to this is extreme environments like abuse or severe neglect.  However, in the very broad range of a “normal” environment, the evidence is clearly on the side of 1) genes and 2) the child’s social circle as having the most influence.  Biological siblings raised apart turn out about as similar as biological siblings raised together.  Non-biological siblings raised together turn out about as different as any two people randomly selected off the street.

Brainstorming Works

Possibly, but group brainstorming is consistently shown to produce lower quality ideas than those produced by the same people working alone.  Interesting!

There is Safety in Numbers

Actually if you need help you are better off if there is only one person around to help.  Beyond that the fewer the better.  It is estimated that 90% of the time people are more likely to help if alone than if they are among a group of people.  It is speculated that in crowds people look to others for social proof of what to do.  So everyone watches everyone else do nothing and does the same thing – nothing.

We Only Use 10% of Our Brain

If you believe this you shouldn’t worry about somebody cutting some of that excess 90% out of your head.  We actually use all of our brain.  That doesn’t mean we exploit our full intellectual potential or that we can’t make a lot more connections because we clearly can.  But if you used only 10% of your brain you wouldn’t be reading this.

You Can Learn to Speed Read

The speed of reading is strictly limited by physiological limits on the speed which the eyes can move and the number of words that can be seen at once with enough clarity to be recognized.  There is very little that can be done to change those factors.  Speed readers are simply skipping many of the words, so they aren’t reading more words per minutes.  Comprehension declines in speed reading that exceeds those physical limitations.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Actually familiarity breeds favor.  Things that you are repeatedly exposed to are preferred and this has been shown in many studies.  As one familiar example, generally the more times you hear a song, the better you like it.

Opposites Attract

They not only do not attract, they do not last.  Opposites repel, believe it or not.  Relationships between people last longer the more similar they are.  Just in general people like other people who are similar to them.

Birth Order Personality Traits

I admit I was a big believer in this one.  It seems so true.  However I accept the evidence of major studies that show birth order is only very weakly linked to a few traits.  It matters very little in personality and the studies that originally showed the effect have been shown to be flawed.

We Know Why We Do Things

The evidence is accumulating that much of the time when we think we know why we do something, it is just a story we tell ourselves that sounds plausible  It doesn’t mean we really know why we did it.  We might have just made up something that sounds good and we won’t don’t know the difference.

What do YOU think?  Leave a comment and join the conversation.


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More Myths That Need Busting
January 3, 2011 at 7:00 pm

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenna May 30, 2010 at 11:17 pm

I disagree about the speed reading (up to a point)… I read every word on a page and i’m still one of the quickest readers of anyone i’ve ever met… I used to peek over my dad’s shoulder when I was learning to read and try to understand whatever book he was reading, and he refused to slow down for me, and it made me speed up to the point where i now read faster than he does. It sure helped a lot at school!
.-= Jenna´s last blog ..10 reasons you should try drumming, aka GET YOUR ASS IN GEAR! =-.


Stephen Mills May 31, 2010 at 7:47 am

Hello Jenna, I too read quite fast. Different people read at different speeds. Some people are faster. I read different kinds of books at different speeds. So obviously one can practice reading faster and get to their physiological max. When I used the term “speed reading” I’m talking about super fast reading techniques that teach people to read faster than it is physiologically possible. I took the best reviewed highest rated speed reading course. One that teacher’s organizations recommend as the only one that works or something like that. My comprehension went down and I could tell it. I do skim quite often and I always have. One can learn to pick out the most important points. There just happens to be a lot of false claims made about speed reading and it’s easy to be taken in by them. Once you hit your limit the only way to go faster is to skip words.


Paul May 31, 2010 at 5:39 am

Parents Have a Big Impact on How Their Children Turn Out

How could you say that parents do not have a significant impact on how their children turn out when then give you your genes? An increasing body of research shows that there is a strong genetic basis for a variety of human traits (e.g., personality), aside from the usual propensity to develop specific diseases or pathologies throughout life. There is really no way to get around this point. A parent’s genetic legacy is a major factor in determining many aspects of their children’s lives.


Stephen Mills May 31, 2010 at 7:39 am

Paul, you are certainly correct. Obviously when I listed genes #1 I was acknowledging that. I’m talking about the child raising impact. Thanks for commenting.


Paul June 1, 2010 at 5:31 am

I know that you understand my perspective, but your point was not obvious (that is why I left my comment). The format of your article seemed to be: 1) name a myth you were going to bust, 2) briefly discuss it, and 3) describe some evidence that “busts” the myth. Listing genes and a child’s social circle together makes it seem as though you were listing these two things as factors that show that parents have minimal influence on their offspring (i.e., two items that bust the myth). If you were trying to focus on the environmental/contextual factors that parents ostensibly use to influence their children (outside of severe neglect/abuse), it was not clear from the paragraph in the article.

It just irks me to read that parents have no significant impact on their children’s’ lives when their biological contribution is such a substantive factor. I do think this was a very thought provoking article and appreciate your responses.


Stephen Mills June 1, 2010 at 7:17 am

Paul, I deliberately shortened the paragraph on parenting. Originally I had sentences to the effect that that parents actually do impact how their children turn out but it is through their genes and not the parental environment. I was also going to add something about the best way to environmentally influence their children was to influence who they had as friends. Instead I shortened it to the 1) 2) format. Maybe that wasn’t such a good choice.

If my parents had tried to influence my friends I would have deliberately chosen worse ones. 🙂

BTW, thanks for reading the response. Not many people do.


Mark Harrison May 31, 2010 at 8:33 am

Good stuff! I agree all these are myths, especially the last one. It seems very clear to me that we tell ourselves stories to rationalize our actions, but why we act the way we do is usually a complete mystery. Indeed, this goes down to a much deeper issue, which is that cause and effect isn’t real – it’s just an illusion, another myth we tell ourselves to help us think we understand.


Stephen Mills June 1, 2010 at 7:20 am

Hi Mark, thanks for commenting. The idea that we don’t understand our own motivations (as least some of the time), or whether we even have them or not is unsettling to me. But it seems to me that is where the evidence is leading.


Gianpaolo Pietri May 31, 2010 at 10:25 pm

At first I didn’t know where exactly you were going with this, but was interesting to see where you ended up. I think your the myths you chose are interesting, and wonder if there is a specific reason you chose those deliberately, as I’m sure there are many more out there.

You make good points, and sound very convincing, but simply stating that ‘studies
show’ may not be enough to convince more skeptical folk, not that I am one. You might consider at least linking to a couple of those studies to legitimize your stance even more. I personally would have liked to check some of them out, as I was unaware there were studies on some of these. Just a thought. Nice post though. Kept me reading the whole way through. Intro could have been more developed, but again, just a suggestion.
.-= Gianpaolo Pietri´s last blog ..optimal living challenge | upcoming smackdown at oleta park! =-.


Stephen Mills June 1, 2010 at 7:55 am

Gianpaolo, you are correct there are many more. I chose these just because they intuitively appealed to me. Even then there are more but I wanted to keep the article under control as far as length so I arbitrarily picked some.

The “studies show” statement is something I struggle with. I have considered putting a reference section at the bottom. But this is a blog. It’s my opinion and I don’t have to prove it. Those things add length and require significantly more time to prepare, both of which are disadvantages.

Many people who are skeptical remain skeptical no matter what you do. They are looking for confirmation not challenge. Recently I linked an article that I thought was very convincing and a reader said they followed the link and decided it was poor evidence. Personally I love to be challenged. One of my favorite things is to discover something I believe is actually not correct. I call that growth. It’s not a hit on my self-esteem.

Further I think most of my readers are savvy enough to research it themselves if they really care to. In the end I’m just trying to stimulate thought and discussion. Hopefully people will consider what I have to say and trust me enough to believe I have some basis for what I say. I will consider your suggestion though. It is something I have thought about before.


rodrigob June 15, 2010 at 8:56 am

How can you argue on Myth busting while giving zero references to pertinent work/research/relevant experiences that would support your claims ?

How is your article any better than the “myth creator” articles ?


Wayne November 18, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Exactly. No mythbusting here. Just more opinions lol.


Nea | Self Improvement Saga June 27, 2010 at 9:20 pm

The myth of safety in numbers is a very interesting one. It really makes you think. i disagree with what you said about whether or not opposites attract. Many studies have shown that opposites indeed attract. However, you’re so right about the fact that it usually doesn’t last. Many of us are attracted to those who live, act, behave, speak in ways that are different from us. It’s intriguing, thus we feel strong, magnetic attraction. It’s definitely not the makings of anything lasting, though.

This was a really great article. When brash comments come your way, you know you’ve written something that challenges people to think. I love it!!! Keep up the great work.
Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog post ..Why People Lie So Damn Much


Howard Douglas Rosbury February 13, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Our problem as humans is that we think in isolation and have forgotten
that we are essentially not human, but spirit. This means that we have forgotten that Reality is not represented by the human mind but by the mind in connection with the spirit mind. This is why so many human beliefs can be shown to be
wrongly perceived. The human mind or the mind dedicated to being human
as was previously expressed exists in a self induced isolation. It is lost in a realm
of unreality and illusion due to the fact that its beliefs have relegated it to
dwelling in an ego that is self limiting and lonely in nature. The solution to this
situation is that the human ego must be put in its appropriate relationship
and utilized as it was originally intended. Not as the dominant and arrogant
entity that it is in general, but as the humble student, looking up to the
unlimited mind of God of which it is a part and aspect.—Doug Rosbury


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