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ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Ben Ambridge is a senior lecturer in
psychology at the University of
Liverpool, where he researches
children’s language development. He
is the author of Psy-Q, which
introduces readers to some of the
major findings in psychology via
interactive puzzles, games, quizzes
and tests. He also writes great
newsy stories connecting psychology
to current events. His article "Why
Can't We Talk to the Animals?" was
shortlisted for the 2012 Guardian-
Welcome Science Writing Prize.
HOW DIFFERENT ARE MEN AND WOMEN REALLY?
Any psychologist will tell you that men are better at spatial awareness than
But the size of this difference is tiny. In fact, the average woman is better than 33
percent of all men, and of course, if that was 50 percent, then the two genders
would be exactly equal.
Any psychologist will tell you that women are better with language and grammar
Again, yes, women are better on average, but the lines are so close that 33
percent of men are better than the average woman, and again, if it was 50
percent, that would represent complete gender equality.
So it's not really a case of Mars and Venus. It's more a case of, if anything, Mars
and Snickers: basically the same, but one's maybe slightly nuttier than the other.
Rorschach inkblot tests have basically no
validity when it comes to diagnosing people's
personality and are not used by modern-day
In fact, one recent study found that when you do
try to diagnose people's personalities using
Rorschach inkblot tests, schizophrenia was
diagnosed in about one sixth of apparently
perfectly normal participants.
Learning styles are made up and are not supported by
So we know this because in tightly controlled experimental studies, when
learners are given material to learn either in their preferred style or an
opposite style, it makes no difference at all to the amount of information that
they retain. It's obvious that the best presentation format depends not on
you, but on what you're trying to learn.
• Could you learn to drive a car, for example, just by listening to someone
telling you what to do with no kinesthetic experience?
• Could you solve simultaneous equations by talking them through in your
head and without writing them down?
• Could you revise for your architecture exams using interpretive dance if
you're a kinesthetic learner?
No. What you need to do is match the material to be learned to the
presentation format, not you.
A recent study at University College London found that 58% of the
variation between different students and their GCSE results was down to
Identical twins share 100% of their environment and 100% of their
genes, whereas non-identical twins share 100% of their environment, but
just like any brother and sister, share only 50% of their genes. So by
comparing how similar GCSE results are in identical twins versus non-
identical twins, and doing some clever math, we can an idea of how much
variation and performance is due to the environment and how much is due
Turns out that it's about 58% due to genes.
So this isn't to undermine the hard work that you and your teachers here
put in. If you didn't quite get the GCSE results that you were hoping
for, then you can always try blaming your parents, or at least their genes.
“The left brain is logical, it's good with equations like
this, and the right brain is more creative, so the right
brain is better at music.”
This is a myth because nearly everything that
you do involves nearly all parts of your brain
talking together, even just the most mundane
thing like having a normal conversation.
What is true that ambidextrous people, or people who use both hands for
different tasks, are more creative thinkers than one-handed
people, because being ambidextrous involves having both sides of the
brain talk to each other a lot, which seems to be involved in creating
A related myth that you've probably heard of is
that we only use 10 percent of our brains. This is,
again, a complete myth. Nearly everything that we
do, even the most mundane thing, uses nearly all of
That said, it is of course true that most of us don't
use our brainpower quite as well as we could.
The idea is that listening to Mozart makes you
smarter and improves your performance on I.Q.
The truth is that listening to something that you
enjoy perks you up a bit and gives you a temporary
I.Q. boost on a narrow range of tasks.
There's no suggestion that listening to Mozart, or
Stephen King stories, is going to make you any
smarter in the long run.
Another version of the Mozart myth is that listening to
Mozart can make you not only cleverer but healthier, too.
Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be true of someone who
listened to the music of Mozart almost every day, Mozart
himself, who suffered from gonorrhea, smallpox,
arthritis, and, what most people think eventually killed him
in the end, syphilis. This suggests that Mozart should have
bit more careful, perhaps, when choosing his sexual
#9 Preferences in a romantic partner are a
product of our culture
The data don't back this up. A famous study surveyed people
from 37 different cultures across the globe, from Americans
to Zulus, on what they look for in a partner.
And in every single culture across the globe, men placed
more value on physical attractiveness in a partner than did
women, and in every single culture, too, women placed more
importance than did men on ambition and high earning
In every culture, too, men preferred women who were
younger than themselves, an average of 2.66 years, and in
every culture, too, women preferred men who were older
than them, so an average of 3.42 years, which is why we've
got here "Everybody needs a Sugar Daddy."
Sportsmen go through hot-hand streaks,
where they just can't miss#10
In fact, what happens is that if you analyze the
pattern of hits and misses statistically, it turns out
that it's nearly always at random. Your brain creates
patterns from the randomness.
So an exception to this, however, is penalty
shootouts. A recent study looking at penalty shootouts
in football shows that players who represent
countries with a very bad record in penalty
shootouts tend to be quicker to take their shots than
countries with a better record, and presumably as a
result, they're more likely to miss.