Have you ever wondered why we often behave so irrationally? Psychologists do that too, which results in countless researches about human nature. Although there is still a lot of unanswered questions, and there is a long way to go until we find the definitive answer for example to why we fall in love with a specific person, thanks to them we now know a lot more about how we feel, think and behave. Here we have collected 50 proven psychology facts, that explain a lot about human nature and will completely change how you see the world.
Our early relationship with our mother has life-lasting consequences
There is a reason why psychologists ask you about your mother. One of the most robust findings of psychology shows us, that no matter where we are born, the past relationship we had with our primary caregiver, massively affects our adult intimate relationships, the way we handle stressful challenges, or our behavior towards our health.
A feel-good life is not necessarily a healthy one
We all want to be happy, but if you want to be healthy, you should rather search for meaning, says a study led by Barbara Fredrickson. They have studied the genes of people who are engaging in a lot of activities which makes them feeling good, but lack true meaning (like going out extensively) and the results were shocking: they had the same gene expression patterns as people exposed to chronic adversity. The group suggests stop running after momentary joys and start looking for activities with meaning.
Stress can be good for us
Contrary to popular belief, stress is not always a bad thing, actually it can be good for you. Psychologists have long observed, that stress help you accomplish task more efficiently, and can motivate you to reach your goals. However, it is important to have good ways to respond to it, and to have possibility to recover from it–without them, it becomes unhealthy, making our life miserable.
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Speaking in a foreign language changes your decisions
You would not think so, but you might make different decisions when you are speaking in your second language. According to a study conducted at the University of Chicago, students using a foreign language made less emotional and more rational decisions. This suggest we might process information differently when speaking another language.
Some emotions are universal
No matter where you are in the world, people will recognise if you make a sad, happy, disgusted, fearful, surprised or angry face. Due to this, these emotions are called universal emotions, and they are known across cultures and at a very young age.
Social connections might be more important to us than food
Maslow’s hierarchy is probably wrong. His hierarchy of human needs says that at base levels we are driven by basic physiological instincts to survive and only after fulfilling these needs can we move over to other needs, like social connections and self-actualization. But current research says otherwise, as it shows hat our most fundamental need is belonging and our connection to other humans. This is what makes us engage in activities leading to self-preservation or self-fulfillment.
Some of us can smell colours
A few of us can see the shape of emotions, smell colours, or hear shapes. This interesting neuropsychological phenomenon is called synaesthesia and happens when our mind involuntarily blends sensations that normally are experienced separately. The people, who experience it, tend to be born with this skill.
Botox could treat depression
According to the facial feedback theory, our facial expressions influence how we feel. So scientists have temporarily disabled the muscles needed of sad facial expressions with Botox injections. This made people lose their negative emotional experience, and they have reported decreased symptoms of depression.
Things that happen to us in early adulthood are with us long term
Have you ever noticed how your mum likes to speak a lot about the things that happened to her during her early twenties? Or ever wondered why people love coming of age teenager stories? Our preference for recollecting memories from adolescent and early adulthood is called “reminiscence bump”, and it might be because of the many changes we experience during that time, and our mind tend to remember changes more than a bit more monotonous periods.
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Listening to classical music is good for your memory
Do you want to perform better at learning something? It might be time to open your classical music folder, as listening to classical music was found to enhance even older people’s memory performance. The finding is so robust that it has its own name: the “Vivaldi effect”.
Our friends know the future of our romantic relationship better than us
According to Tara Macdonald and Michael Ross, if you are in love and you would like to know whether it will last, you should just ask your mom. They reported that dating couples tend to predict the longevity of their relationships through rose-coloured glasses, so asking their friends and family served as much better predictors of whether their romances would survive.
We prefer our own accents as soon as 5 months old
Babies are born with the ability to understand all accents of the world, but from the age of 5 months they start to prefer and listen to their mother’s accent and avoid connection with people with other accents.
Kids with dyslexia are more emotionally responsive
Although many times dyslexia is seen only as a problem, it can be a sign of a uniquely functioning brain with many strengths. For example, watching the same videos, children diagnosed with dyslexia were observed to give more emotional responses than children without it, suggesting an atypical, enhanced way of noticing and processing emotional cues.
Experiences make us happier than material gifts
If you want to give the perfect present, remember that psychological research suggests that purchasing experiences has a more lasting positive effect on people’s happiness than material objects and looking back, people will also believe to have spent their money more wisely.
Isolation can hurt us physically
Call your grandma! Being socially isolated and feeling lonely have seriously dire consequences on us: they make us more prone to poor mental health and can lead to serious, undesirable cardiovascular outcomes.
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Narcissistic people tend to be more politically involved
Researching who takes part in elections and other political activities, scientists have come to a surprising result: more narcissistic people can be more involved in such activities, may it be signing petitions, donating money or contacting politicians. Add to those result that narcissistic people also prefer their own personal gain to the societal needs and we might see the root of some our current problems.
Air pollution hurts not only our lungs, but our brains too
After researching the brain of older women with Alzheimer, researchers have found those women’s brain showing smaller brain volume, who were living in areas exposed to higher levels of air pollution compared to those who did not. This suggests that foul air could damage our brain, altering its structure negatively.
Westerners are more anxious
According to a study, collecting data from 147 261 adults aged 18 to 99 years, anxiety is more prevalent in high-income countries than in countries with poorer socioeconomic environment. The study further suggests that poorer people living in Western countries are the most anxious population in the world.
Atheists sleep better than Catholics
In a paper published in the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, researchers claim that atheists and agnostics are significantly more likely to be better sleepers than Catholics and Baptists.
Happiness is contagious
And so is sadness. The basis of this phenomenon might be our natural tendency to mimic the behaviours and facial expressions of others. Scientists say this emotional synchrony happens unconsciously but the extent of it depends on the intimacy we share with the other person.
People with lower self-confidence are more likely to be successful
People usually think that high self-confidence is the key to achieve success, but according to business psychologists Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, it is not exactly true, as he says “low-enough” self-confidence makes you more open to feedback and behaviour changes which result in better workplace results.
Proper sleeping hours improve our memory significantly
Do you want to remember something? Give yourself a good night’s sleep: according to a study, fresh memories stick better if we have a well-deserved rest after studying them.
Writing by hand makes kids smarter
Although life is getting more digital, psychologists argue for keeping handwriting part of our curriculum. It seems that kids writing by hand learn more and remember better than the ones using a keyboard. It might be due to the fact that handwriting activates more senses, which helps to create connections between different parts of the brain.
Daydreamers are more creative
Our culture tends to see mind-wandering as bad, but actually, according to psychologist it can be just a symptom of being intelligent and more creative.
What we say first is what sticks with others
First impressions are more important than you think. Scientists observed the this at many parts of our life, especially when convincing others, so you should not be afraid to speak up first. People tend to remember the first argument for a longer time and they also influence our opinion stronger.
Our short-term memory lasts less than half a minute
In a classic cognitive psychology study participants, who had to remember 3 letter strings, could recall 80% of them after 3 seconds but, after 18 seconds they could only remember 10%. This effect has been reliably replicated since that, suggesting that you might have already forgotten some of the facts you have read above.
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Sad music makes our mind wander
In a brain-imaging study, scientists have found that listening to sad but not happy music increased the strength of mind-wandering. It has also caused people to focus inwards and think about themselves, while people listening to happy music thought more about the music itself and other people.
People who are the most incompetent are the least aware of their own incompetence
There is a reliably observed effect, named after its original observer as the Dunning–Kruger effect, which describes the cognitive bias that individuals with low ability at a task are the most likely to overestimate their performance. These people simply fail to recognize their lack of ability making them incapable to objectively evaluate their own competence.
Regularly helping others might make us live longer
When reviewing the effects of regular volunteering, psychologists have found that it might reduce early mortality rates by 22%, compared to those in people’s who don’t take part in such activities. Regular helpers also reported reduced depression symptoms and increased sense of life satisfaction and wellbeing.
More hostile people own more aggressive dog breeds
The personality of owners of stereotypically aggressive breeds, like Rottweiler or German Shepherd, was compared to the owners of stereotypically peaceful breeds, like Labs and Golden Retriever. The result? They were found to be higher in anger, aggression, and hostility traits.
Weekly exercise can prevent downgrade to Alzheimer’s
A research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy has found that when patients with mild cognitive impairment started practicing physical exercise at least three times a week, their risk of getting Alzheimer’s has significantly decreased. Time to dust off our running shoes.
There are special periods when alcohol is terrible for us
Although alcohol abuse is always bad for your brain health, there seem to be 3 specially sensitive periods, when severe alcohol consumption results in cumulative long-lasting detrimental effects on your brain: gestation (from conception to birth), later adolescence (15-19 years), and older adulthood (over 65 years).
Rejection literally hurts you
Have you ever felt punched in the stomach after somebody rejected you? It is no wonder that rejection hurts so much. According to neuroimaging studies the same brain areas are activated during socially and physically painful experiences, resulting in very similarly hurting experiences.
Stress during pregnancy changes our brains
Infants’ brains may be shaped by their mother’s experiences during pregnancy. A new study combining neuroimaging with hormonal samples, found babies of women who were experiencing stress to have different brain structures compared to healthy ones, especially in regions important in emotional answers, making them more likely to have emotional issues in later life.
We don’t change our behavior by hearing it is bad
Do you want to convince somebody to stop doing something annoying, like littering? Psychologists advise you rather focus on the positive outcome with your message, say for example: “Almost everybody who lives here, place their trash in the garbage”. This way the appropriate behavior is presented as the social norm and people are unconsciously inclined to follow it.
People from different cultures process information differently
It has been shown in multiple studies, that when seen a scene, most Americans focus on the visually most prominent acting object but most east-Asians focus on the background and the context. This suggests, that from the beginning of perception those of us from east-Asian cultures see people and objects more in relationship to their environment.
Fathers’ brains respond differently to daughters and sons
Fathers behave differently with daughters and sons: they are more attentive and responsive to their daughters’ needs, sing more often to them, and speak more openly about their emotions towards them. The study published in Behavioral Neuroscience explored the neural background for this behaviour: showing fathers their daughters’ happy facial expressions resulted in higher activation in brain areas involved in reward, emotional regulation, and face processing.
Bonuses don’t always work
According to a study conducted in India and in the United States, big bonuses only raised the performance of the workers in certain cases: if they did mechanical work. But in case of work requiring use of cognitive skills, big rewards were actually detrimental on performance.
Night owls are more intelligent
A study has found those people, who sleep and wake up late, to be more intelligent. It might be because of their tendency to diverge from normally practised activities, in this case, the usual social functioning of being active during the day.
We value things that were made by us disproportionately
We value things more if we were involved in their creation and people also see their creations- even if they are very amateurish- as similar in value to experts’ creations. Researchers calls this phenomenon the IKEA effect.
We are bad at forecasting our emotional reactions
A research group has studied couples and asked them to predict their emotional state after their possible future breakup. What was the result after visiting them again if the breakup indeed happened? Most of the participants hugely overestimated the distress levels they would feel, and in real life they were a lot less disturbed.
Who we find hot depends on our own attractiveness
An analysis of a dating website has found that people prefer to date others with similar levels of attractiveness. This effect is more prevelant in women. Compared to them, men seem to consider their other characteristics more strongly when choosing a potential date.
Thinking that you will end up alone can cause a drop in intelligent thought
Participants of a research who were led to think that they would be alone later in life, were less likely to function logically after receiving this information. The other participants, who received bad forecasts of non-social misfortunes, have not shown cognitive decrease, emphasizing the role of social belonging in conscious thinking.
Being depressed may age your brain
At a study of an older community, researchers have found that following depression, people had their brains in worse shape. The brain has literally shrinked in its volume! Depressed elderly have exhibited greater memory problems than their peers.
We find symmetry attractive
People find face and body symmetry attractive, but do not worry if your face is not completely symmetrical. It has been proven that by adding symmetrical jewellery or face paint to asymmetrical faces, people also ended up preferring them.
Some people’s limbs have their own mind
The Alien Hand syndrome most usually occurs after somebody suffers from stroke or other brain injury. The report feeling as if their hand is controlled by someone else. It can behave completely out of their own will. It was even reported in some case to trying to harm the owner of the hand.
People who appreciate dark humour have Higher IQs
Funny people, and especially those who enjoy dark humour, were found to be more intelligent than their less funny peers. Both their verbal and non-verbal intelligence was higher, moreover they were less aggressive than people who did not appreciate dark humour.
We almost always underestimate how long it will take to finish a task
Students finish on average, 3 weeks later, that their “most realistic” estimate, and one week later than their “worst case-scenario”. This overly optimistic mode of planning is called as planning fallacy by psychologists.
We all think we are better-than-average drivers
Although, it is statistically impossible to be so, when asked, most people will answer that they are better-than-average drivers. If they are told that others disagree with them, they will simply argue that other’s good driving category is not as accurate as theirs.
One in a hundred people literally feels other’s pain
Neuropsychologists have discovered that the expression, “I know what you feel” is literally true for some of us. These people, when they see others being touched, or hurt, experience the same touch or feel like they were hurt. Not the best company for your next horror movie, are they?
+1 Although these facts are interesting, fun, and tell us a lot about human nature, never forget that most of them were described after conducting research with small numbers of specific populations. But it is a fact that they provide a wonderful way to raise questions, and to start digging into the wonderful and weird world of psychological research and in the end completely change how you see the world.
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