People want to believe the unbelievable. That truth is stranger than fiction is enticing because we like weirdness and, when it’s true weirdness, it’s somehow more appealing. Unfortunately, and especially in the modern world, this has led to a proliferation of quirky and unbelievable modern myths and weird facts that are not true at all. They’re just lies that are trying to succeed based on our tendency to take things on faith.
10. Myth: Most Lottery Winners End Up Broke and Miserable
Have you ever heard that most lottery winners end up broke? Google it and you’ll get millions of results. The National Endowment for Financial Education is often quoted as saying 70% of lottery winners go broke in just a few years. Horrors! But have you ever backtracked that statistic? It’s not true, and the organization had to issue a statement in 2018 saying none of their research suggests that.
Do some lottery winners lose it all and end up miserable? Sure, why wouldn’t they? Do most? No, why would they? The problem started in the 60s and 70s as the media focused on the stories that had that miserable twist. It’s not a story if someone wins a million and has a happy life. But it is a story if they win it then lose everything in a year. And nearly all the media stories followed this pattern, picking the rare but juicy tales of misery and woe.
Research in the 1970s showed most lottery winners were happy. But headlines like “Instant millionaires: Dream becomes nightmare for some” set the negative tone. But actual research has shown that, for the bulk of people who win the lottery, it makes their lives better. This isn’t hard to wrap your head around – having lots of money lets you do more things you want to do. They are happier and live more satisfied lives and they aren’t going bankrupt at a rate greater than the rest of us.
9. Myth: Most Olive Oil is Fake
One of the biggest scams of the last decade, if you believe a lot of the online hype, is how much olive oil is fake. Google “fake olive oil” and you’ll find an abundance of articles and blogs letting you know as much as 70% of the stuff is fraudulent. The FDA published peer-reviewed research in 2015 that showed, of 88 brands of extra virgin olive oil tested, they couldn’t find any fakes. The North American Olive Oil Association tests 200 brands per year in independent labs overseen by organizations certified by the UN to ensure oil safety and quality. Their research shows 98% of olive oil on American shelves is the real deal.
So where did the fake story come from? UC Davis Olive Center. This organization has been accused of pushing California olive oil. They released a report saying 69% of imported oil failed to meet a sensory standard test for extra virgin olive oil. That means, to them, it didn’t taste like extra virgin olive oil.
UC Davis later clarified and said the media just misunderstood their meaning. They never said 70% was fake, or that it wasn’t all olive oil, just that, to them, it didn’t meet their standards for “extra virgin.”
8. Myth: Your Brain Stops Developing at Age 25
It’s a commonly cited “fact” these days that your brain is fully developed by the time you turn 25. This number is used to address all kinds of situations, from why underage drinking or smoking may be bad, to explaining why Leonardo DiCaprio stops dating women when they turn 25.
MRI technology is at the forefront of the belief that 25 is your magic brain number. Scans of younger brains differed from those of older brains. The brains of 18 to 21-year-olds react to negative emotion more like younger teens than older people. White matter increases as you age. Lots of things keep developing and so, it was decided, your brain keeps developing into your 20s. But the number 25 was never specified.
Where did 25 come from? At least one psychologist whose work has been used to bolster the 25 theory (but who never said 25 himself) suggested maybe people picked it because it’s nice-sounding.
In reality, brain charts that map development from over 100,000 participants from 115-days-old to 100-years-old shows that development occurs over our entire lives, just in different ways and at different speeds with significant, but by no means final, development in those early years.
7. Myth: You Can Detox Your Body With Supplements or Diet
The detox market is valued at about $56 billion so have no doubt people are motivated to convince us we’re full of filth that they can help clean up if we pay them enough. This can range from things like juice cleanses to various healthy food detox diets to pill and supplements you can take meant to strip away poisons or heavy metals or whatever tox you think you need detoxing from.
Medically, the idea of detoxing is nonsense. There’s just no such thing. Your liver, your kidneys and your lungs are in your body specifically to filter things like alcohol or contaminants from your system, which can be potentially harmful to you. This is all the natural detoxing you need. Beyond that there’s going to a hospital for something like a drug overdose and getting treated to remove those chemicals with medical help and that’s it. No diet or pill can get anything else out of your body.
Some cleanse diets will help you lose weight, but this is mostly because they make you poop a lot thanks to laxatives. It may seem like toxins are seeping out of you, but they’re not really. Other detox methods, like foot pads that supposedly leach toxins from your flesh, are straight up fraudulent and filled with substances that change color when they get wet but dupe you into thinking they’re absorbed toxins.
6. Myth: Urine is Sterile
Survivalist Bear Grylls drinks his own urine far too frequently. You could arguably blame him for the pervasive modern belief that urine is sterile since he literally said exactly that the first time he drank it on camera.
Urine is not sterile. As it travels out of your body it’s moving along from internal to external and it will pick up bacteria. Also, even internally, healthy people still have bacteria in their urine. If you have an infection, then expect it to be that much worse.
Before Grylls spread the urine drinking idea around, a doctor in the 50s set the stage for this false belief when he developed a test for UTIs. Under his method, a person with under 100,000 colony clusters of bacteria per milliliter tested negative for bacteria. So the urine was still potentially laden with bacteria, just not enough to count as having an infection and that, in people’s minds, meant it was sterile.
5. Myth: You Can Get More Done by Multitasking
Some time in the early 2000s, office culture became enamored with the idea of multitasking. The idea that you can perform several tasks at the same time. If you were going on a job interview, you absolutely wanted to point out to your prospective employer how good you were at multitasking.
By focusing on multiple tasks simultaneously, you can get so much more done, in theory. But the reality is that you cannot. Research backs this up. You aren’t even multitasking in the way you think, as in two things at once. Your brain is doing one task, then stopping and starting a new task, then stopping and starting the old task. Your brain focuses on one thing at a time, even if it does so quickly, and some people decided that meant it could process multiple things at once.
What you’re really doing is switch-tasking, and it actually makes both jobs longer than doing them one at a time. Multi-taskers are also chronically distracted. So they take longer to do jobs, they do them more poorly than they would otherwise, and they have trouble focusing on what they’re doing, anyway.
4. Myth: Suicide Rates Increase During Holidays
For several years there has been an often-repeated idea that suicides spike during holidays. Look on social media and you’ll find thousands of posts dating back over a decade in which people share this unquestioningly, like it’s common knowledge.
The reality is that there is no evidence to support the idea of a suicide spike during holidays. In fact, in 2021, December and January had the lowest suicide rates of the year and the highest spike was in August.
The myth has been one people have been trying to fight for years because the media keeps publishing stories about it around the holidays. The fear is that, for people who genuinely are suffering severe depression and are suicidal, they can find this false narrative supportive and it could create a contagious effect.
The Annenberg Public Policy Center has been trying to debunk the myth for years and analyzes media coverage every holiday season. They note a continual perpetuation of the myth in media stories every holiday season, despite no actual evidence.
3. Myth: Alcatraz Prison Was the Worst
Everyone knows Alcatraz was a nightmare prison, right? They made movies about it! Surrounded by sharks, on a rock in the ocean with no hope of escape, it was the worst of the worst. But most of that was just hype.
The idea that swimming to shore to escape is impossible is disproven pretty regularly as there is a triathlon called the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon in which participants all have to swim the 1.5 miles from shore to the prison and hundreds of people do it every year. You just need to watch the water temperature. Worried about sharks? That’s a myth too, as sharks are rarely seen in San Francisco Bay.
Of greater importance is how the prison itself was run. Alcatraz was well-liked by many prisoners and some even requested transfers to Alcatraz. The prison had a one prisoner per cell policy, which meant privacy not found in other prisons.
Food in Alcatraz was also reportedly abundant and good quality because the warden thought a well-fed prison population was less likely to riot. Inmates enjoyed chili dogs, fried pork chops, candied sweet potatoes, hot apple pie with ice cream and plenty more.
Prisoners also had access to a huge library of 15,000 books, 75 magazine subscriptions and a monthly movie night.
2. Myth: Mantis Shrimp Have Superhuman Vision
The internet loves a quirky animal story and some years ago it discovered the mantis shrimp. Thus was born a rumor about this tiny animal and its mind-blowing vision.
Humans can see three types of colors thanks to the cones in our eyes – red, blue and green. Then we can break those down into all kinds of shades. Dogs have two cones which let them see blue and yellow. But the mantis shrimp? They have 12 cones. So the internet interpreted this as the mantis shrimp having access to a range of colors we can’t imagine.
Research on how the shrimps see shows that the way their photoreceptors work differs from ours. The range of colors they can see is not otherworldly but, instead, they are likely able to see and distinguish individual colors faster than a human brain can which aids in distinguishing prey but they actually have worse color vision overall.
1. Myth: Rhino Horns Are Poached To Be Sold as Aphrodisiacs
Animal poaching is a disgusting trade no matter what the reason for it, but different animals are definitely hunted for different reasons. Elephants are often killed for their ivory but rhinos are poached for their horns as well. Unlike elephants, a rhino horn is just keratin, like human hair and fingernails, and does not have the same value.
The horns have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine even though they have no real, scientific medical value. They are also prized for decorative purposes, maybe jewelry or even cups carved from them. But there has been a pervasive myth in the West that they are used as an aphrodisiac.
There has never been a market for rhino horn as an aphrodisiac, or at least not traditionally. That said, because the myth is so well-known now, it actually became a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy with some people in places like Vietnam wanting it for that reason.