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Top Pop Culture Myths Exposed

Updated on June 30, 2014

Since we were born, most of us have been exposed to a wide variety of Pop Culture. It takes the form of a movie, television show, book, magazine, or website and we are all aware that much of it is intentionally fictionalized. Yet, when the same piece of information is repeated within multiple sources, that information begins to seem truthful.

The lines become further blurred when we consider that many fictional stories are set in real world locations with characters based on real personality types who face real life situations. Then, consider that many of those same Pop Culture sources -- television, magazine, and the others -- are the same sources used by many for gathering facts.

Put this all together and it is easy to see how things can become confused.

In this article, we will touch on a few so-called-truths pervasive in Pop Culture today.

But don't just take this article's word for it. Visit the references listed for each myth -- links to very reputable sources that prove these truly are myths.

  • We Only Use 10% of Our Brains


In many films, it is specifically stated that people only use a small percentage of their brains. This concept is used as a foundation for explaining a new-found psychic ability or a sudden ability to reason way beyond what's considered normal.

For example, in the film Limitless, it is said that people only use 20% of their brains. Enter a new pill that allows people to access 100% of their brains, exponentially increasing their thought potential and creativity.

While this is a great premise for Science Fiction, it has no basis in reality. Research is currently being done to chart activity that happens in multiple regions of the brain from even a small amount of stimuli. In other words, people use all of the grey stuff they have available.

It could be theorized that this myth grew up around the study of the brain's ability to compensate when a portion of it is damaged.


Example of Myth

From the movie Tommy Boy
"Try an association. Like uh... let's say the average person uses 10% of their brain. How much do you use? One and a half percent. The rest is clogged with malted hops and bong resin."

From the movie Wedding Crashers
“You know how they say we only use 10 percent of our brains? I think we only use 10 percent of our hearts.”

The movie Lucy

  • There are More Suicides during the Holidays

Movies about families set during the holidays often focus on family members who are at loggerheads.

Consider films such as National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989), The Family Stone(2005), and Home for the Holidays (1995). They all include relatives who find it difficult to relate to one another which leads to bickering and chaos. Films like these plant the seed that the Holidays are unbearable for most people.

Then, when another film has their character say lines like:

Harry: "Boy, the holidays are rough! Every year I try to get from Thanksgiving to New Year.:

Sally: "A lot of suicides."

The fictions seem to come together creating a believable truth.

In reality, December actually has the lowest suicide rate of the whole year. The highest is July.

  • Schizophrenia is the same as Multiple Personality

It's an old but pervasive joke. I am Schizophrenic, and so am I. The meaning here is clear. I have two personalities and they both have the same illness. The problem, however, is that the illness is not Schizophrenia; it is Multiple Personality Disorder.

I presume this was meant to punch up what would otherwise be an awkward line. Somehow I have Dissociative Identity Disorder and so do I just doesn't roll off the tongue in the same way.

The myth also exists in print. It can be found in at least one Stephen King novel, the Dark Tower II: the Drawing of the Three.

Here are the accepted definitions of each illness.

Multiple Personality Disorder (A.K.A. MPD) or Dissociative Identity Disorder (A.K.A. DID):

"DID reflects a failure to integrate various aspects of identity, memory and consciousness in a single multidimensional self. Usually, a primary identity carries the individual's given name and is passive, dependent, guilty and depressed. When in control, each personality state, or alter, may be experienced as if it has a distinct history, self-image and identity." --Psychology Today


"Schizophrenia is a chronic, severe, and disabling brain disorder...People with the disorder may hear voices other people don't hear. They may believe other people are reading their minds, controlling their thoughts, or plotting to harm them. This can terrify people with the illness and make them withdrawn or extremely agitated." --NIH

"Although schizophrenia sufferers may hear voices that they attribute to various people or have strange beliefs that seem out of keeping with their usual selves, this is not the same as having a ‘split personality’. " --Psychology Today

Films that get it right:



United States of Tara

Amazon Instant Video


Example of the Myth

  • Plastic Water Bottles Cause Cancer

The myth:

Plastic water bottles will release a cancer-causing toxin into the water when the bottle becomes warm.

Example of the myth:


This myth was sent to many via email and was also on some web sites. Soon, people began to talk to one another about the myth and spread it further.

The truth is, there are no chemicals present in the plastic used to make water bottles that could cause cancer. Even if there were, the amount of heat created by leaving the bottle in the sun would never be enough to release them.


  • Hair and Nails Grow After Death

This myth involves the seemingly mysterious changes that take place on a body after death.

Dead bodies. Most people don't want to think about them. Don't want to know about what a Mortician's job entails or what really happens in the casket after burial. The thought of death in general makes people uneasy. Yet, the idea that something is still growing on the corpse, could be seen as a form of life continuing to remain and maybe some people find this comforting.

On the other hand, it plays nicely into another popular mythology, that of Vampires. In Vampire stories, the creatures always develop long fingernails as part of their transition from being human.

At any rate, it all boils down to the same thing, it is all a myth. It is sad, but it is true. Once a body is dead, it is no longer capable of growing anything. Cell functions cease in a very short period of time after death and all cells begin to break down.

Examples of Myth:

TV Show: Star Trek: Enterprise, episode Shuttlepod One
TV Show: The Oblongs, episode Disfigured Debbie
TV Show: Tonight Show episode, Johnny Carson " For days after death hair and fingernails continue to grow, but phone calls taper off. "
Book: All Quiet on the Western Front by Enrich Maria Remarque

Verification of Myth:
Book: Textbook of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Jaypee Brothers
"Though both hair and nails cease to grow after death, ... apparent growth
after death [is] due to postmortem drying up of the skin."

These myths serve as a reminder of how easily falsehoods can creep into the collective consciousness.

If a person can't remember hearing or reading something from a reputable source, it should be researched before passing it on or accepting it as truth.

NOTE: Reputable sources are publications from institutions such as the American Cancer Society, the CDC, a well-known University, or a well-respected news source (MSNBC, CNN, Reuters); NOT wikipedia or some random website.

August, 2013


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