“Stupidity is a talent for misconception.” – Edgar Allen Poe
The fact that everyone says it does not make it true. From age-old tales to advice heralded as “conventional wisdom,” some of the stuff we’ve been taught is simply false.
Let’s take a look at some of the world’s most common misconceptions.
The belief that kids who ingest sugar will bounce off the walls is mostly caused by a placebo affect.
A 1994 study examined 35 young boys whose mothers claimed they were “sugar-sensitive.” Researchers gave aspartame to all the children. They told half of the mothers that their kid had just ingested a hefty dose of real sugar before encouraging the moms to supervise their kids outside. Mothers who thought their children had ingested real sugar “rated their children as significantly more hyperactive.” This “expectancy effect” caused the misinformed mothers to “criticize, look at, and talk to their sons more” than the control group.
44. Memory of a Goldfish.
Fish recall information for up to five months, not three seconds. Israeli scientists have even trained young fish to associate sound with food. Whenever they play a particular sound, the fish return for feeding time.
43. Motherly Love
It’s not harmful to pick up baby birds and return them to their nests. Their mother won’t reject them. In fact, birds don’t have a very powerful sense of smell, so a mother likely can’t even tell that a human has handled her babies.
42. If I Were Blue I would Die
Human blood isn’t ever blue… not in your body at least. Deoxygenated blood has a dark red color, and oxygenated blood is light red. Blood sometimes appears blue only because skin and fat makes it look that way.
Your tongue doesn’t have areas dedicated to different tastes. Every type of taste can be detected on every part of your tongue. Also, there aren’t just four primary tastes—there’s five: in addition to bitter, sour, salty, and sweet, humans can taste umami, which is a savory or meaty taste.
40. Blending In.
Chameleons don’t change their color to blend in with their environment. Color change is a critical part of chameleon communication: they use colors to signal moods, aggression, territorial behaviour, and intention to mate.
39. Red Oranges.
The fruit orange isn’t named after the color; it’s the other way around. Before the late 15th century, orange was considered a shade of red.
38. Me Love You Long Time!
Many people think penguins mate for life. While some penguins stay monogamous throughout a mating seasons, very few stay monogamous for their entire lives.
37. The Multi-Million-Dollar Pen
The often-told story about NASA creating an ultra-expensive space pen while the Russians used a pencil is false. NASA used pencils too.
The space pen was privately developed by the Fisher Pen Company.
36. Forbidden Figs.
It’s never stated that the forbidden fruit in the Bible was actually an apple. Some theological examinations have concluded that it was more likely a fig or pomegranate.
35. Spidey Senses?
Humans have way more than five senses. Depending on the criteria for what qualifies as a sense, the actual number ranges from nine to over 20.
There’s sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. There’s also balance, acceleration, pain, and temperature.
34. A Man of Stature.
Napoleon Bonaparte wasn’t short. He was 5’7″, which actually made him taller than the average man of his time. His nickname, “le Petit Caporal,” (translates to “The Little Corporal”) was probably a term of affection.
33. What Goes Around.
The Earth doesn’t quite revolve around the Sun. It revolves around the solar system’s center of mass, which is called the Barycenter. Usually, it’s contained within the volume of the sun, but this isn’t always the case. When it’s outside the mass of the sun, the Earth is technically orbiting around empty space. Space-time is weird.
32. Sailing Off the Edge.
Not everyone in the 1400s thought the world was flat. Many scholars and educated people knew the world was round. The fact that Christopher Columbus proposed reaching India by sailing west from Spain proved that he too knew the Earth was round. Interestingly, Columbus underestimated the size of the world. If he hadn’t come across the “West Indies,” he and his shipmates would have starved to death.
31. Well, we only ever use…
It’s not true that we only use 10% of our brains. Only a small number of neurons fire at a given moment, but neurons do useful stuff even when they’re not firing. Additionally, you use every region of your brain at different times.
Viking helmets didn’t have horns. The image of the horned-helmet Viking is from an 1876 production of Der Ring des Nibelungen.
29. Pre-Swim Cheeseburgers.
Eating before swimming doesn’t cause cramps or drowning. That said, there is a strong correlation between alcohol consumption and drowning… for obvious reasons.
28. Double Bubble Stomach.
It doesn’t take seven years for you to digest gum. Technically, you can’t digest it at all, but that doesn’t mean it sits in your stomach forever! It just passes right through your system.
27. We Have a 420 in the Back Alley…
“420” isn’t the LAPD’s code for marijuana abuse.
LAPD code 420 is used for a “juvenile disturbance.” It’s also not the penal code: California Penal Code section 420 “prohibits the obstruction of access to public land.”
26. Mmm… Donuts.
When John F. Kennedy’s said, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” Germans did not think he said, “I am a jelly doughnut.” In Berlin, a jelly donut is usually just called “ein Pfannkuchen.”
25. My Grandpa Wasn’t and Ape!
Humans didn’t evolve from apes. We are apes.
We also did not evolve from chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are another type of ape with whom we share a common ancestor.
For those that want to get nerdy… “Ape” refers to all animals in the “Hominoidea” or “Hylobatidae” families. These two families together include gibbons (Hylobatidae), gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and us (homo sapiens).
24. Trains, Planes, and… Just Trains.
Mussolini didn’t make the trains run on time.
The trains in Italy were in brutal shape after WWI. The government that preceded Mussolini made a ton of improvements. After Mussolini rose to power, the trains went back to being a complete disaster.
23. Nice Chompers.
George Washington didn’t have wooden teeth. His dentures were made out of gold, ivory, lead, animal teeth and (most disturbingly) teeth from his own slaves.
22. Viva La Redhead!
Redheads are not going extinct.
Here’s the idea that took the internet by storm: as the climate in northern Europe gets warmer, redheads will gradually die out as their paler skin can’t cope with the UV radiation. This idea is, quite frankly, preposterous.
Ginger people aren’t going to be killed off by a bit on sunlight. Furthermore, red hair is a recessive gene, which means that two non-redheads can have a child with red hair.
There wasn’t actually widespread panic after Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds. In fact, most people didn’t even hear about it. There were a few isolated incidents in some cities, but the reason the post-broadcast hysteria lives on in infamy is because of exaggerated reports by local newspapers.
20. Blind as a Bat.
Bats aren’t blind. All bat species have eyes and can see, and some actually have excellent night vision.
19. Live Long and Medieval.
Life expectancy wasn’t that short during the Dark Ages. Life expectancy in the Middle Ages was largely lower because of a high infant mortality rate. If you survived to adulthood in medieval England, you could expect to live into your sixties. Modern healthcare has also made a large impact on post-natal life expectancy, but it’s decreases in infant mortality that have moved the needle most.
18. Fly, Fly, Fly…Dead.
Houseflies live much longer than 24 hours, typically for about 20 to 30 days.
17. Liquid Glass.
Glass doesn’t really flow like a liquid. Old glass just looks like it’s slowly flowing because of an outdated manufacturing process.
16. Skin Dipping.
Your fingers don’t wrinkle in the pool because skin absorbs water. It’s a response by the autonomic nervous system that is thought to have evolved to give our ancestors better grip in wet environments.
15. Flower Power.
Sunflowers don’t follow the sun across the sky. They face east.
14. Toilet Twister.
The Coriolis effect doesn’t actually make water rotate in different directions while flushing toilets and draining bathtubs. Your toilet would drain the same way it does now if you move it to the other hemisphere.
Hurricanes do spin in different directions in different hemispheres.
13. Warm Me Up, Mr. Daniels.
Alcohol doesn’t warm you up. Drinking alcohol may make you feel warm, but it actually lowers your body temperature by dilating blood vessels and making blood pump closer to the skin.
12. Wear Your Hat, Kids.
Although parents usually fuss over their children going outside without a hat, a person loses only 7 to 10 percent of body heat through the head. That said, our body loses a disproportionate amount of heat through any part that is exposed, so hats are still a good idea.
11. Sick From The Cold?
There’s no connection between going outside with wet hair and falling ill. Colds are caused by viruses, not low temperatures.
10. Crack Away!
Cracking you knuckles does not cause arthritis. The popping noise heard is the displacement of air in the joint and the supporting ligaments and tendons gliding over the joint surfaces. It’s still annoying though.
9. The Tallest Peak.
When measured base to summit (and not from the sea level to summit), Mauna Kea in Hawaii is the tallest mountain in the world. Most of it is submerged under water.
8. Even Einstein Failed Math!
Nope. Einstein not only excelled in mathematics but also had mastered differential and integral calculus before age 15. He did fail the entrance exam of the (extremely prestigious) Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich. He was only 16 years old at the time and failed because he did not fare well in non-science subjects, especially French.
7. Your Armpits are Safe.
Deodorants stand accused of causing cancer, especially breast cancer in women. In truth, there is no link between the use of these products and cancer.
6. Not So Empty.
Don’t let the name fool you. Black holes are not empty spaces but huge amounts of matter packed so densely that even light can’t escape their strong gravitational force.
5. Seeing Red.
Bull’s don’t get angry when they see red. Bulls are actually colorblind, and it’s the wavy movement of the cape that makes them charge.
4. Five-Second Rule!
Picking up food that dropped on the ground isn’t necessarily safe, even it’s only been five second. Cookies can pick up toxic salmonella bacteria almost immediately, especially on a tiled or wooden surface.
3. Mmm… Banana!
There are no banana trees. The banana plant is actually a herb, the largest herbaceous flowering plant.
2. An Out-Of-This World View.
Many folks claim that the Great Wall of China is the only manmade object you can see from space. You can see tons of manmade objects from space, and The Great Wall of China is actually pretty tough to spot from outside Earth’s atmosphere.
1. Tall, Dark, and Handsome.
Lot’s of people think women desire men who are “tall, dark and handsome,” but evolutionary psychology research has stated that women are actually most attracted to status parameters. Status parameters can include wealth, positions of power, and social standing.
Men, on the other hand, select more for fertility indicators such as youth and beauty.
That said, it’s important to remember that evolutionary psychology is only one lens to examine this complex topic. Furthermore, evolutionary psychology relies on the presumption that we’re products of our evolution and that baser, more animal instincts can govern our behaviour. This may be true sometimes, but we’re also pretty darn smart monkeys with a large prefrontal cortex capable of advanced thought and reasoning. We can choose to go against our instincts. We can learn to be attracted to – and even love – people that don’t meet evolutionary criterion.
For factaholics who love history, check out these historical myths that have been busted:
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5