The mind interests me. What we seem to know about the mind is constantly being challenged. Here I’ve taken an article I found in the September/October 2019 Psychology Today magazine that purports to abolish ten myths about the mind. I have admittedly heard of all of these theories at one time or another, both in my own education on psychology as well as in mainstream folklore and topics of conversation. I have summarized each of them here and then end with my own impressions of these tenets.
1.Birth Order –
Birth order actually doesn’t matter as much as it has been written and talked about. Turns out you can be a very conscientious, rule-bound, responsible first born or last born. Doesn’t matter. You may fit into this profile and you may not. Super helpful, huh?
2. Sex Addiction –
Sorry all (?!?!), this is actually not recognized as a mental disorder in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Instead what is probably the most closely described disorder is referred to as “compulsive sexual behavior disorder”, and is very rare, unfortunately more often used freely to label bad behavior and deflect blame. The myth is that many people claim or would like to attribute an addiction to sex when really these individuals are plainly engaged in problematic behavior rather than addictive behavior. For the purposes of brevity and the intention of this post, I will not discuss the criteria of addictive behavior here.
3. Left-Brained or Right-Brained –
Guess what? You do not have a dominant brain hemisphere. While the right and left hemispheres of our brain do indeed specialize in different mental functions, the relationship between the two is complex and you are neither one or the other. The left hemisphere is largely responsible for language while the right hemisphere is largely responsible for perception. However, both hemispheres work in concert and the functioning varies between individuals. Another way that you are unique! Yay!
4. Learning Styles –
Again, you are unique my friend and while it would be nice to stake claim to a learning style, what or how you find enlightenment when learning a new skill or concept could happen differently each time. What we have been overlooking in our effort to attribute learning styles to our children (and ourselves) is that we actually have to practice retrieving information, not just taking it in. Read that again. You actually have to practice getting the information out of your brain that you put into it.
5. Multiple Intelligences –
I have been assessing the intelligence of children for over fifteen years now, so this one did not surprise me based on my own experiences. Here it is – we indeed all have different talents and abilities that are not easily assessed using a standardized intelligence test; however, the only empirically strong evidence in regard to predictive power is general intelligence which is a good estimate of abstract reasoning ability. Simply put, being able to identify the relationship between verbal and nonverbal ideas is what general intelligence is made of.
6. 10,000 hours of practice –
Okay, this one actually surprised me the most, but actually explains a lot too. Ever wonder why some individuals are able to reach an expert or extremely advanced level of a skill while others that put in the same practice aren’t able to reach that same level? Turns out deliberate practice only accounts for at most about one quarter of performance differences. In “elite” athletes, practice only explained about one percent of the variation in performance. There are chess players that have been able to master the same level of skills after 3,000 hours of practice that it took other chess players 20,000 hours of practice. Intelligence seems to be important as does the age at which you start the type of training. Other factors that play a role include whether you have a coach and your working memory capacity. One hour of practice does not amount to the same level of gain across athletes or musicians which is actually what is referred to as a single cause fallacy.
7. Male and female brains are the same –
The brains and minds of men and women differ in important ways and evolutionary theorists postulate that sex differences arose because male and female hominids faced different reproductive and survival pressures. It behooves us to understand the differences between men and women in regard to medical treatment specifically as it turns out that drugs tested on male animals don’t necessarily work for human females. Turns out Dr. John Gray was on to something when he wrote his Men are From Mars and Women are From Venus book in the early ‘90s. 😉
8. The Depression Gene –
There is no single gene for depression, schizophrenia, or any other psychiatric disorder. Every one of us has a much higher risk of a mental disorder if we have a family member with a psychiatric condition, but there is not one gene that can be attributed to the expression of any mental disorder.
9. The Five Stages of Grief –
It turns out people do not grieve in a set, predictable manner. Read: YOU ARE UNIQUE! One thing that is consistent and typical between individuals is that the intensity of grief wanes over time, but there are no predictable stages or a typical roadmap for experiencing grief.
10. Attachment Style –
Early interactions with parents do not critically determine how people relate to others when they are grown. There are too many moving parts and influencing factors such as other important relationships that you have in life. Attachments that you have to others could more likely be explained by something that has occurred in your recent history or similar interpersonal interactions that have occurred over time.
In summary these theories have been around for a very long time and it turns out there is not much empirical evidence that supports any of it. If you’re around long enough, you notice that this happens. We have scientists that are dedicated to researching, testing, and proving or disproving hypotheses through the scientific method. This is important work. When we know better, we do better. My takeaway from this information is that the human mind is complex and intriguing. Doesn’t it make sense that we wouldn’t be able to explain all minds in any single theory? They may provide us food for thought and swell our interest to learn more to see if it fits into our schema of life experiences – but in the end, no brilliant scientist is going to be able to fully understand or explain you. You’re the only one that will get the closest to that in this lifetime. Enjoy the discovery.