40 Mind-Blowing Psychology Facts that Seriously Explain Everything

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You’re programmed to love the music you listened to in high school the most.

The music we like gives us a hit of dopamine and other feel-good chemicals, and that’s even stronger when we’re young because our brains are developing. From around age 12 to 22, everything feels more important, so we tend to emphasize those years the most and hang on to those musical memories.

“Researchers have uncovered evidence that suggests our brains bind us to the music we heard as teenagers more tightly than anything we’ll hear as adults—a connection that doesn’t weaken as we age,” writes Mark Joseph Stern for Slate.

Memories are more like pieced-together pictures than accurate snapshots.

Even people with the best memories in the world can have “false memories.” The brain generally remembers the gist of what happens, then fills in the rest—sometimes inaccurately—which explains why you insist your wife was with you at a party six years ago, even though she’s adamant she wasn’t.

There’s a reason that certain color combinations are hard on your eyes.

When you see bright blue and red right next to each other, your brain thinks the red is closer than the blue, making you go practically cross-eyed. Same goes for other combinations, like red and green.

Putting information in bite-sized pieces helps us remember.

Your short-term memory can only hold on to so much information at a time (unless you try one of the simple ways to improve your memory), which is why you use “chunking” to remember long numbers. For instance, if you try to memorize this number: 90655372, you probably naturally thought something like 906-553-72.

You remember things better if you’ve been tested on them.

Sorry, kids! One of the most useful psychology facts is that testing really does work. One study published in the journal Psychological Science found that people are more likely to store information in their long-term memory if they’ve been tested on the information (the more, the better) than if they just study and don’t need to remember it right away.

Too much choice can become paralyzing.

The whole “paradox of choice” theory has been criticized by researchers who say it hasn’t been shown in studies, but there is some evidence that our brains prefer a few options to a ton. When singles at speed-dating events met more people and those people had more diversity in factors like age and occupation, the participants chose fewer potential dates.

When you feel like you’re low on something (like money), you obsess over it.

Psychologists have found that the brain is sensitive to scarcity—the feeling that you’re missing something you need. When farmers have a good cash flow, for instance, they tend to be better planners than when they’re tight for money, one study found. When you’re feeling cash-strapped, you might need more reminders to pay bills or do chores because your mind is too busy to remember.

We keep believing things, even when we know they’re wrong.

Researchers in one Science study fed volunteers false information, then a week later revealed that the facts weren’t actually true. Even though the volunteers knew the truth (now), fMRI scans showed that they still believed the misinformation about half the time. It’s one of the psychology facts to know that could make you smarter.

We look for human faces, even in inanimate objects.

Most of us haven’t seen Jesus in a piece of toast, but we’ve all noticed cartoonish faces seemingly staring back at us from inanimate objects. That’s called pareidolia, and scientists think it comes from the fact that recognizing faces is so important to social life that our brains would rather find one where there isn’t one than miss a real-life face.

We will always, always, always find a problem.

Ever wonder why when one problem resolves, another one takes its place? It’s not that the world is against you—but your brain might be, in a sense. Researchers asked volunteers to pick out threatening-looking people from computer-generated faces. “As we showed people fewer and fewer threatening faces over time, we found that they expanded their definition of ‘threatening’ to include a wider range of faces,” writes researcher David Levari, PhD. “In other words, when they ran out of threatening faces to find, they started calling faces threatening that they used to call harmless.”

We’d rather skew the facts than change our beliefs about people.

Humans hate “cognitive dissonance“: when a fact counters something we believe. That’s why when, we hear that a loved one did something wrong or garbage, we undermine how bad it really was, or we tell ourselves that science exaggerates when a study tells us we really need to move more.

People rise to our high expectations (and don’t rise if we have low ones).

You may have heard of the Pygmalion effect before—basically, we do well when other people think we will, and we don’t do well when people expect us to fail. The idea came from a famous 1960s study in which researchers told teachers that certain students (chosen at random) had high potential based on IQ tests. Those students did indeed go on to be high achievers, thanks to their teachers’ expectations in them.

Social media is psychologically designed to be addictive.

Told yourself you’d just quickly check your Facebook notifications, and 15 minutes later you’re still scrolling? You’re not alone. Part of that has to do with infinite scroll: When you can stay on the site without actually interacting and clicking, your brain doesn’t get that “stop” cue.

We can convince ourselves a boring task was fun if we weren’t rewarded.

Here’s another great example of cognitive dissonance: Volunteers in one Psychology of Learning and Motivation study did a boring task, then were paid either $1 or $20 to convince someone that it was actually pretty interesting. The ones who were paid $20 knew why they’d lied (they got a decent reward) and still thought it was boring, but the ones who’d only gotten a buck actually convinced themselves it really was fun, because their brains didn’t have a good reason to think they’d been lying.

Power makes people care less about others.

You’ve probably heard about the famous Stanford prison experiment. (Refresher: College students were randomly assigned to be either a prisoner or guard in a fake prison, and the “guards” started harassing the “prisoners.” It got so bad that the two-week experiment was canceled after six days.). That’s pretty extreme, but later studies have found that when people feel like they’re in a power position, they become worse at judging a person’s feelings based on their facial expressions, indicating a loss of empathy.

To our ancestors, sugar and fat were good things.

Why, oh why, does cake have to taste better than vegetables? Well, because that’s how we were primed for millions of years. For our ancestors, getting a quick hit of energy from sugar and then storing it as fat, or eating plenty of fat to keep our bodies and brains fueled meant more energy in the long run. But now that sugary, fatty foods are easy (a little too easy) to eat and overeat, our bodies are still primed to store that fat—even though we don’t need it.

Our brain doesn’t think long-term deadlines are so important.

Pretty much everyone has procrastinated at one time or another, even though we know logically that it would make more sense to get a jump on our taxes than to turn on Netflix. We prefer urgent, unimportant tasks because we know we’ll be able to complete them. There’s also evidence that when we see the deadline looming in terms of days, rather than months or years, because we feel more connected to a day-by-day passing of time.

We loosen our morals when an authority tells us to.

It’s one of the oldest psychology facts in the books: In the 1960s, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram infamously conducted an experiment that he thought would prove Americans wouldn’t accept immoral orders like the Nazis had. For a “learning task,” volunteers were told to deliver shocks to a “learner” (an actor, little known to the real volunteers) if they got an answer wrong. To Milgram’s horror, the participants continued delivering shocks, even when the learner screamed in pain.

Money can buy happiness, but only up to a certain point.

Research shows that in terms of income, people have a “satiation point” where happiness peaks and earning more won’t actually make you happier. Different studies have suggested various amounts (one 2010 study said $75,000, but a 2018 survey said $105,000), but the point is the same: Constantly aiming for more, more, more won’t necessarily do you any good.

It’s not just how much money we make, it’s how we spend it.

Even if you haven’t topped out to your happiest income, your money can still determine your happiness. You’ve probably already heard about research that shows we’re more satisfied when we spend money on experiences (a nice meal out or theater tickets) than on possessions because it helps us socialize and feel more alive. But another study published in Science found another strategy for using money the most satisfying way: spending on other people instead of ourselves.

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