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The truth about myths - by Philip Hesketh


Even though the calendar provides a clue, every year millions of people fall victim to pranksters and, for a short while at least, believe in something that clearly isn't true. Which got me thinking about 'myths' in general and four in particular. I've described them below so that if anyone tries to tell you they're true, you can explain exactly why they're not. Whilst you read them, I'm off to recover my wife's dressing gown from the fridge freezer where it should be nicely chilled.

Myth number one: 'We use only 10% of our brain'
Although there's no evidence to back this up, it might just as well be true for the numpties who believe it. American psychologist William James started the myth when he claimed that the average person fulfills only a small part of their potential. Unfortunately, a generation of 'positive thinking' gurus latched on to this idea and over time 'fulfilling 10% of our potential' gradually morphed into 'using 10% of our brain.' And when the preface to Dale Carnegie's 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' repeated the claim it became widely accepted.

Myth number two: 'Personality depends on which side of the brain is dominant'

This 'right-brain/left brain' concept is a much held belief but total nonsense. It's true that we have two hemispheres that are responsible for different abilities, but they are interconnected and work together. Think of a connecting door between two hotel bedrooms. Now stop thinking about that because it's a ridiculous analogy. The hemispheres do determine things like which hand you prefer to use, but none of this affects personality.

Myth number three: 'Women talk more than men'

In 2006, a book called 'The Female Brain' claimed that women utter 20,000 words a day, and men just 7,000.Although this would conveniently explain why my wife always seems to have the last word, I'm afraid it's pure myth. It turns out that the author's research into the subject was less than scientific. (I mean how could you hear yourself count with all that chattering going on?) To disprove the claim, Professor of Phonetics Mark Liberman of Penn University looked at all the studies done on this and found conflicting reports that gave average female daily word-counts ranging from 4,000 to 25,000 words. He ultimately concluded that the claims were pure guesswork and that the only effective way to stop a person talking was with a gagging order.
I may have added that last bit.

Myth number four: 'The two numbers in Pareto's 80:20 rule must always add up to 100'

Although Pareto's 80:20 rule suggests otherwise, it's simply not true that the two figures must add up to 100. For instance, the top ten words searched in Google account for just 3% of all searches. 'Facebook' is number one. In the car hire business, .5% of customers rent 25% of the cars. At Old Trafford, 33% of the revenue comes from 7% of the crowd. (And it's not true that 85% of that is generated by the sale of prawn sandwiches.)
Finally, the top 6% of Cola drinkers in the UK drink 60% of the Cola sold.
You get the idea.

Now if you'll excuse me, I can hear my wife calling for her dressing gown.