Psychology is the science of commonsense that most often than not confirms what we already know in our minds to be true. We can however battle this misconception, according to Jeremy Dean, a psychology and master of ceremonies PhD candidate, by thinking “about all the unexpected, surprising, and just plain weird findings that have popped out of psychology studies over the years.”
1. Cognitive dissonance
It’s one of the weirdest findings in psychology. According to cognitive dissonance, it’s difficult to hold two contradicting beliefs and so we adjust to one unconsciously, so that it fits with the other. A study done on the same, found that a task is interesting to a student if they are paid less to take part. We reason that since money was not involved then the task must have been interesting for us to do it. A boring task will become interesting because it’s hard to explain the behavior. This theory is unsettling because our minds seem to be performing rationalizations like this many times without consciously knowing. So how can you be sure of what you really think?
2. Hallucinations are common
We mostly consider hallucinations an indication of some serious mental illness. They are more like dreams you have while awake and in reality, these dreams are more common to ‘normal’ people. In a study done by Ohayon, 2000, one third of the population reported having experienced hallucinations. 20% experienced them once a month while 2% once in a week.
Normal people similarly have paranoid thoughts. In a recent study, 40% of the population experienced paranoid thoughts during a virtual study. Apparently, the gap between the ‘sane’ and the mentally ill is smaller than we imagine.
3. The placebo effect
You are having a headache. You take some aspirin and a few seconds later, you are feeling so much better. Have you experienced this? Well, it can’t be as a result of the drug because the drug would need at least 15 minutes for it to kick in. This is what is called the Placebo effect. Since your mind knows you have taken a pill, you feel better. This effect is mostly strongest in medicine where pain is involved. A placebo of salty water (saline) would work just as powerfully as morphine would.
The word Placebo is Latin for ‘I shall please‘. In another study done, 80% improvement from taking drugs like Prozac was placebo. They could as well have taken the sugar pill. The placebo effect can be considered counter-intuitive because the body and mind are not separate.
4. Obedience to authority
We consider ourselves independent minded. We would not harm another unless undergoing serious duress. But if ordered to electrically shock another by an authoritative figure wearing a white coat, would we?
Stanley Milgram did the experiments to test obedience to authority. He wanted to find out how far people would go if an authoritative figure orders them to hurt another human. 63% of those participants continued administering shock even when the victims cried in pain. They continued administering it until the victims grew silent. The participants were just ordinary people like you and me.
Situations in life dictate how much control we have on our behavior. It’s a power we find hard to notice however until it’s revealed dramatically in studies like this one.
5. Fantasies reduce motivation
We mostly motivate ourselves by fantasizing about the future. We have this idea that if we fantasize about the future, we will get motivated towards reaching our goals. Psychologists however have found that fantasizing about our success is bad for motivation. When you get the taste of goals coming true in the here and now, your drive to achieve it is reduced. It’s also hard to notice problems we could face in the future when fantasizing. A better way to achieve our goals would be through mental contrasting. With mental contrasting, one is forced to decide whether a goal is achievable or not. If it is, commit and if it’s not, let go.
6. Choice blindness.
Do you have a reason for every decision you’ve made? Like, why you are attracted to a certain person? Don’t be quick to say yes. According to a certain study, people were tricked easily into justifying choices they had not made about those they found attractive. We sometimes exhibit, choice blindness. We tend to have very little or no awareness at all about the choices we make and the reasons as to why we make them. Then we use rationalization to cover our tracks. We apparently have very little access to the inner workings of our minds.
7. More heads are not always better than one
According to psychology, brainstorming should not be a solution to problems. When people are in groups, they tend to be lazy, forget their ideas when others are talking and worry too much about what others are thinking of their opinion. It would be much better if everyone went off and came up with their own unique ideas, then the group evaluates them.
8. Suppressing thoughts is counterproductive.
Remember when you were worried about something and everyone kept telling you to ‘put it out of your mind’? Well, this is bad advice. It’s counterproductive to suppress your thoughts. When you suppress thoughts, you experience an ironic rebound effect. Whatever you were thinking about becomes even stronger than it was before. A better way to solve it would be looking for a distraction.
9. We all have incredible multitasking skills
We can train our minds to do incredible things despite all limitations we may have. In fact, with practice, one can be able to read and write at the same time. In a multitasking study, two volunteers were trained for a period of 16 weeks. By the end of training, they could read a short story and categorize a list of words at the same time. In time, they could execute as well on both tasks using the same time they could on each of the tasks individually before they started the study.
10. The little things are what matter in life.
We consider big events like, graduating, getting married or getting a baby as most important. However, the major events in your life are not often directly important to your well-being; little uplifts and hassles of everyday life are. The major events affect us mainly through the uplifts and hassles they produce daily. For example work satisfaction is mostly achieved after one is hit by everyday hassles. Things like quality sleep, little ups and downs at work and friends and family relationships are what affect our happiness: the little things in life make us happy.