25 Surprising Facts About Psychology

Who says psychology is all common sense?

Posted Oct 15, 2011

When you tell someone that you're taking, teaching, or practicing psychology, you're likely to get the reaction that "it's all common sense." However, having taught introductory psychology for over 30 years, I've accumulated an armamentarium of facts to teach students that challenge this myth about psychology's knowledge base. Here are 25 of them.

1. Freud initially only sold 700 copies of the Interpretation of Dreams.

2. Placebos sometimes offer as much relief as actual treatments.

3. Maslow's study of 3,000 college students found that none met the criteria for self-actualization.

4. Skinner began his work on pigeons while working on a missile detection system during World War II.

5. People tend to experience déjà vu about a conversation or a dream.

6. Posting a calorie chart in fast food restaurants may lead people to choose less healthy foods.

7. Most "identical twins" are not "identical."

8. John F. Kennedy Jr. and his wife Caroline died due to a vestibular illusion.

9. The Stanford Prison experiment had to be discontinued after 6 days instead of the planned 14.

10. It's estimated that more than 50% of the U.S. population believes in psychic phenomena.

11. Van Gogh probably developed the symptoms that led to his hospitalization from absinthe poisoning.

12. Almost half of all married couples 75 and older still have sex on a regular basis (with each other).

13. Freud is widely taught at universities, except in psych departments.

14. Alcohol is involved in an estimated 90% of cases of sexual assault on college campuses.

15. Optimists don't always cope well with stress.

16. Schizophrenia does not mean "split personality."

17. Rorschach's nickname as a child was "inkblot."

18. Milgram got it right (unfortunately).

19. Alfred Binet, an early developer of intelligence testing, was trained as a lawyer.

20. Cats have almost two times more neurons in their cortex than dogs.

21. The idea that there are "right brain" and "left brain" people is a myth.

22. Dreaming occurs during non-REM as well as REM sleep.

23. Getting paid for doing something you like may make you less creative.

24. Smiling may make you feel happier.

25. Negative reinforcement—eliminating something negative—works better than punishment as a disciplinary measure.

The next time you hear the "psychology = common sense" response, you'll have a great comeback!

To learn more about our fascinating field, check out these additional links:

If you'd like to test your psychology knowledge, you can take this Jeopardy! Psychology Trivia quiz

Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting. 

Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. 2011