40 Mind-Blowing Psychology Facts that Seriously Explain Everything

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The human psyche is infinitely complex, which means new research comes out every day that helps illuminate why were are the way we are. And while some psychological studies provide us with fairly banal psychology facts (for example, one University of Rochester study confirmed that—get ready for it—people are happier on the weekend), others are truly enlightening.

Herein, we’ve rounded up the psychology facts that explain human nature—and just might shed some light on a few of the patterns you notice in yourself and others. From why you think food tastes better when someone else makes it to why you always see human faces in inanimate objects, these are the mind-blowing psychology facts that explain everything.

If we have a plan B, our plan A is less likely to work.

Every now and then, it hurts to be prepared. In a series of experiments from the University of Pennsylvania, researchers found that when volunteers thought about a backup plan before starting a task, they did worse than those who hadn’t thought about a plan B. What’s more, when they realized they had options, their motivation for succeeding the first time around dropped. The researchers stress that thinking ahead is a good idea, but you might be more successful if you keep those plans vague.

Fear can feel good—if we’re not really in danger.

Not everyone loves scary movies, but for the people who do, there are a few theories as to why—the main one coming down to hormones. When you’re watching a scary movie or walking through a haunted house, you get all the adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine from a fight-or-flight response, but no matter how scared you feel, your brain recognizes that you’re not really in danger—so you get that natural high without the risk.

“Catching” a yawn could help us bond.

Why do you yawn when someone else does, even if you aren’t tired? There are a few theories about why yawning is contagious, but one of the leading ones is that it shows empathy. People who are less likely to show empathy—such as toddlers who haven’t learned it yet or young people with autism—are also less likely to yawn in reaction to someone else’s.

We care more about a single person than about massive tragedies.

In another University of Pennsylvania study, one group learned about a little girl who was starving to death, another learned about millions dying of hunger, and a third learned about both situations. People donated more than twice as much money when hearing about the little girl than when hearing the statistics—and even the group who’d heard her story in the context of the bigger tragedy donated less. Psychologists think that we’re wired to help the person in front of us, but when the problem feels too big, we figure our little part isn’t doing much.

Beginnings and ends are easier to remember than middles.

When people are asked to recall items from a list, they’re most likely to think of things from the very end, or from the very beginning, found one study published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience. The middle gets muddled, which could also play into why you remember your boss wrapping up her presentation, but not so much about the middle.

It takes five positive things to outweigh a single negative thing.

Our brains have something called a “negativity bias” that makes us remember bad news more than good, which is why you quickly forget that your coworker complimented your presentation but keep dwelling on the fact that a kid at the bus stop insulted your shoes. To feel balanced, we need at least a five to one ration of good to bad in our lives.

Food tastes better when someone else makes it.

Ever wonder why that sandwich from the takeout place down the street tastes better than the ones you make at home, even if you use the same ingredients? One study published in the journal Science found that when you make yourself a meal, you’re around it so long that it feels less exciting by the time you actually dig in—and that, subsequently, decreases your enjoyment.

We’d rather know something bad is coming than not know what to expect.

Researchers who published their work in the journal Nature have found that it’s less stressful to know something negative is about to happen (e.g., there’s no chance we’ll get to a meeting on time) than when we don’t know how things will work out (e.g., we might be on time after all). That’s because the part of our brain that predicts consequences—whether good or bad—is most active when it doesn’t know what to expect. If stepping on the gas will help us beat traffic, we’ll go through that stress instead of just accepting that we’ll have to come up with a decent excuse when (not if) we’re late.

We always try to return a favor.

It’s not just good manners—the “rule of reciprocity” suggests that we’re programmed to want to help someone who’s helped us. It probably developed because, to keep society working smoothly, people need to help each other out. Stores (and some frenemies) like to use this against you, offering freebies in hopes that you’ll spend some cash.

When one rule seems too strict, we want to break more.

Psychologists have studied a phenomenon called reactance: When people perceive certain freedoms being taken away, they not only break that rule, but they break even more than they otherwise would have in an effort to regain their freedom. This could be one of the best psychology facts to explain why a teenager who can’t use his phone in class will chew gum while stealthily sending a text.

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