Conviction OR Why Do People Hold On To Ridiculous Beliefs with Such Gusto?

I was actually upset about this topic a while ago, but was reminded about it for reasons I can’t now remember (put that in your brain and make sense of it).

I think my biggest pet peeve is when I get into a discussion with someone, and they really want to make a point, to the extent that they just fucking make shit up and say it with such conviction that I believe them. I’ve stopped being friends with someone for this exact reason. Perhaps I’m extreme… But yeah, it really jars me.

Specifically I was at a bar and this friend of a friend was telling my friend that she need not worry about wearing helmets, because there’s a myth that cycling is dangerous, and furthermore helmets won’t protect you. He said that, if you look at the statistics, you’ll see that. OK, challenge accepted:

Here’s a statistic I found from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (note: these are statistics from the U.S.):

Furthermore, a study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that helmet use reduced head injury risk by 85 percent. (Thompson, R.S.; Rivara, F.P.; and Thompson, D.C. 1989. A case-control study of the effectiveness of bicycle safety helmets. New England Journal of Medicine 320:1361-67.)

So fuck that guy. Wear a helmet, if you would like to protect your head.

OK, but what I really wanted to talk about is the crazy conviction some people hold for beliefs that they have only ever heard stated by other people:

The average person swallows eight spiders per year.

Do you believe this? If so, why? What study was conducted to find this number?
Anyways, surprise surprise, this is not true. But try telling someone that. I have, and they get upset. They’re like “well yeah, it could totally be true”. That’s not what I’m arguing. It COULD be, but it’s not. At least, I, as well as that person, do not know of a single study to suggest that it’s true.

I just find it shocking that the few people I’ve brought this up with have held on to their beliefs with gusto and bizarre logic.

Anyways, if you want to know where it comes from, here’s a snopes article. It was actually made up in order to illustrate the ridiculous things people will believe that they read on the internet.

Now, for reasons of interest, I’m trying to think of other generally accepted beliefs that are not true.

I can think of “People only use 10% of their brains”. I have no idea where this came from. I don’t think it’s true. It probably comes from a poor understanding of fMRI studies. Most fMRI studies are event-related, where the person alternates between doing a task for 30 sec, then doing nothing, and repeating that for the length of the scan (usually 9 minutes). In this type of study, the rest signal is subtracted from the task signal. In that case, it may be found that some tasks use up 10% of the brain. But even that would be a tenuous fact (for various reasons that I don’t want to get into). Furthermore, it ignores the fact that during the ‘rest’ part, the brain is still VERY active, and you’re subtracting it away. For example, recently (last 15 years), researchers in fMRI have been looking at what are called resting state networks. These are parts of the brain that are functionally connected (are sending signals to each other / communicating to each other) throughout the brain. With current MRI technology, there appears to be between 6-10 consistent resting state networks that can be identified reliably in every person. I found a study that looked at how much of the brain volume these resting state networks take up, and the number is 66%. I don’t know if this is a higher or lower limit…. since for one thing fMRI has resolution on the level of mms (3-4mm, for example), and on the other hand, that number is based on only 6 networks, and these resting state networks are very low frequency: there may be networks of higher frequency or of another nature.

Deco and Corbetta, (2011), Neuroscientist, 17(1), 107-123

Anyways…I just found this from Scientific American:

Though an alluring idea, the “10 percent myth” is so wrong it is almost laughable, says neurologist Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. Although there’s no definitive culprit to pin the blame on for starting this legend, the notion has been linked to the American psychologist and author William James, who argued in The Energies of Men that “We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.” It’s also been associated with to Albert Einstein, who supposedly used it to explain his cosmic towering intellect.

The myth’s durability, Gordon says, stems from people’s conceptions about their own brains: they see their own shortcomings as evidence of the existence of untapped gray matter. This is a false assumption. What is correct, however, is that at certain moments in anyone’s life, such as when we are simply at rest and thinking, we may be using only 10 percent of our brains.

“It turns out though, that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time,” Gordon adds. “Let’s put it this way: the brain represents three percent of the body’s weight and uses 20 percent of the body’s energy.”

Turns out other people don’t know where that idea came from either…poo.

Oh, ok, last one: “Men think about sex every 7 seconds”. How would this study have even been conducted?

Anyways, from snopes: Many people point to Alfred Kinsey as the origin of this “fact,” but even he didn’t get that specific. Kinsey concluded in one study that 97% of men thought about sex between a few times a day and a few times per month, with 54% falling into the daily category. While we can debate whether men are more sexually driven than women, the “seven-second” rule is pure fiction.


About dontdontoperate

28 year old originally from Barrie, Ontario, Canada. H.B.Sc. from UofT with a major in chemistry and a double minor in philosophy and math. M.Sc. from UofT in physiology and neuroscience. Finished my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at McMaster in the fall of 2013.
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