The Misconception: People who riot and loot are scum who were just looking for an excuse to steal and be violent.

The Truth: You are are prone to losing your individuality and becoming absorbed into a hivemind under the right conditions.

Source: Improv Everywhere

When a crowd gathers near a suicidal jumper something terrible is unleashed.

According to ABC News, in Seattle in 2001, a 26-year-old woman who had recently ended a relationship held up traffic for a little too long as she considered the implications of leaping to her death. As motorists began to back-up on the bridge and become irate, they started yelling “Jump, bitch, jump!” until she did.

Cases like this aren’t unusual.

In 2008, the Telegraph reported that a 17-year old man jumped from the top of a parking garage in England after 300 or so people chanted for him to go for it. Some took photos and recorded video before, during and after. Afterward, the crowd dispersed, the strange spell broken. The taunters walked away wondering what came over them. The other onlookers vented their disgust into social media.

In San Francisco, in 2010, a man stepped onto the ledge of his apartment window and contemplated dropping from the building. The SF Examiner detailed how a crowd gathered below and soon started yelling for him to jump. People in the crowd even tweeted about it. He died on impact fifteen minutes later.

“i was there and im traumatized. the guys next to me were laughing telling him to jump and videotaping the whole thing. i’m still young and in high school and this is gunna stick with me for the rest of my life. there was a total lack of respect for the poor man and people were laughing when he jumped.”
– comment left at the SF Examiner

Police and firefighters are well aware of the tendency for crowds to gather and taunt at potential suicide scenes, so they often push people out of shouting distance. The risk of a spontaneous cheering section goading a person into killing themselves is high when people in a group feel anonymous and are annoyed or angry. It only takes one person to get the crowd going. According to psychologist David Myers, those are the three ingredients – anonymity, group size and arousal. If you lose your sense of self, feel the power of a crowd, and then get slammed by a powerful cue from the environment – your individuality may evaporate.

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The Misconception: You procrastinate because you are lazy and can’t manage your time well.

The Truth: Procrastination is fueled by weakness in the face of impulse and a failure to think about thinking.

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Netflix reveals something about your own behavior you should have noticed by now, something which keeps getting between you and the things you want to accomplish.

If you have Netflix, especially if you stream it to your TV, you tend to gradually accumulate a cache of hundreds of films you think you’ll watch one day. This is a bigger deal than you think.

Take a look at your queue. Why are there so damn many documentaries and dramatic epics collecting virtual dust in there? By now you could draw the cover art to “Dead Man Walking” from memory. Why do you keep passing over it?

Psychologists actually know the answer to this question, to why you keep adding movies you will never watch to your growing collection of future rentals, and it is the same reason you believe you will eventually do what’s best for yourself in all the other parts of your life, but rarely do.

The Misconception: You take randomness into account when determining cause and effect.

The Truth: You tend to ignore random chance when the results seem meaningful or when you want a random event to have a meaningful cause.

Source: http://stanhamiltonartgallery.com

Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were both presidents of the United States, elected 100 years apart. Both were shot and killed by assassins who were known by three names with 15 letters, John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, and neither killer would make it to trial.

Spooky, huh? It gets better.

Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy, and Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln.

They were both killed on a Friday while sitting next to their wives, Lincoln in the Ford Theater, Kennedy in a Lincoln made by Ford.

Both men were succeeded by a man named Johnson – Andrew for Lincoln and Lyndon for Kennedy. Andrew was born in 1808. Lyndon in 1908.

What are the odds?

The Misconception: Venting your anger is an effective way to reduce stress and prevent lashing out at friends and family.

The Truth: Venting increases aggressive behavior over time.

Source: chrislomasphotography.com

Let it out.

Don’t hold it all in.

Left inside you, the anger will fester and spread, grow like a tumor, boil up until you punch holes in the wall or slam your car door so hard the windows shatter.

Those dark thoughts shouldn’t be tamped down inside your heart where they can condense and strengthen, where they form a concentrated stockpile of negativity which could reach critical mass at any moment.

Go get yourself one of those squishy balls and work it over with death grips. Use both hands and choke the imaginary life out of it.

Head to the gym and assault a punching bag. Shoot some people in a video game. Scream into a pillow.

Feel better?

Sure you do. Venting feels great.

The problem is, it accomplishes little else. Actually, it makes matters worse and primes your future behavior by fogging your mind.

The Misconception: You rationally analyze all factors before making a choice or determining value.

The Truth: Your first perception lingers in your mind, affecting later perceptions and decisions.

You walk into a clothing store and see what is probably the most bad ass leather jacket you’ve ever seen.

You try it on, look in the mirror and decide you must have it. While wearing this item, you imagine onlookers will clutch their chests and gasp every time you walk into a room or cross a street. You lift the sleeve to check the price – $1,000.

Well, that’s that, you think. You start to head back to the hanger when a salesperson stops you.

“You like it?”

“I love it, but it’s just too much.”

“No, that jacket is on sale right now for $400.”

It’s expensive, and you don’t need it really, but $600 off the price seems like a great deal for a coat which will increase your cool by a factor of 11. You put it on the card, unaware you’ve been tricked by the oldest retail con in the business.

One of my first jobs was selling leather coats, and I depended on the anchoring effect to earn commission. Each time, I figured it was obvious to customers the company I worked for marked up the prices to unrealistic extremes. Yet, over and over, when people heard the sale price, they smiled and wrestled with their better judgment.

The prices you expect to pay, where did those expectations originate?

The Misconception: When your emotions run high, people can look at you and tell what you are thinking and feeling.

The Truth: Your subjective experience is not observable, and you overestimate how much you telegraph your inner thoughts and emotions.
You stand in front of your speech class with your outline centered on the lectern, your stomach performing gymnastics.

You sat through all the other speeches, tapping the floor, transferring nervous energy into the tiles through a restless foot, periodically wiping your hands on the top of your pants to wick away the sweat.

Each time the speaker summed up and the class applauded, you clapped along with everyone else, and as it subsided you realized how loud your heart was thumping when a fresh silence settled.

Finally, the instructor called your name, and your eyes cranked open. You felt as if you had eaten a spoonful of sawdust as you walked up to the blackboard planting each foot carefully so as not to stumble.

As you begin to speak the lines you’ve rehearsed, you search the faces of your classmates.

“Why is he smiling? What is she scribbling? Is that a frown?”

“Oh no,” you think, “they can see how nervous I am.”

I must look like an idiot. I’m bombing, aren’t I? This is horrible. Please let a meteor hit this classroom before I have to say another word.

“I’m sorry,” you say to the audience. “Let me start over.”

Now it’s even worse. What kind of moron apologizes in the middle of a speech?

Your voice quavers. Flop sweat gathers behind your neck. You become certain your skin must be glowing red and everyone in the room is holding back laughter.

Except, they aren’t.