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Commonly Accepted ‘Facts’ That Are Totally Untrue

November 17, 2022 People's Tonight 475 views

Thomas West

Most people are familiar with urban legends, many of which are easily debunked. However, there are quite a few erroneous beliefs that continue to percolate in the popular imagination, often because they are constantly reinforced. This happens via popular culture (films, TV shows, books), through conversations with others, and, of course, through the internet.

Some of these misconceptions occur throughout history, while others are simply old-school myths that refuse to die, no matter how much they have been debunked by various scientific studies and by scientists. The users of Reddit have usefully identified a number of the most commonly accepted facts which, it turns out, aren’t true at all. These are some of our favorites.


• Photo: Wilfredor / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

Plenty Of Foods Offer More Potassium Than A Banana

From Redditor u/ItsTreasonThen:

While bananas are tasty, the idea that they are like the best source of potassium for your diet is wildly overblown. In fact, I think it’s probably one of the most overly promulgated “fruit facts” out there.

Oranges, prunes, and watermelon rival it or outright beat the potassium content. And what’s more? A literal potato has more potassium.

Context: Though they might be delicious, bananas are not nearly as rich in potassium as people believe. On average, a banana has about 9% of the daily recommended amount.

There are, in fact, a number of other foods with more of this vital mineral, including avocados, sweet potatoes, spinach, and watermelon.

• Did you believe the myth?

• • • Photo: Jason Wirchin / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

You Have Way More Than 5 Senses

From Redditor u/proximalfunk:

That we have 5 senses.

As well as sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, we have senses of:

Pain, balance, temperature, body position, bodily intactness, pressure hunger, thirst, time, hormones, sexual arousal, carbon dioxide level/suffocation, tiredness, acceleration, urination, defecation, skin vasodilation. I think there are others that are related to those main senses.

Context: Though the five senses have become common parlance, the reality is much more complicated. Neuroscientists now believe humans have many more, with estimates ranging between 22 and 33. Some of the lesser-known senses include equilibrioception (balance), proprioception (knowing the presence of one’s body parts without looking), and chronception (sensing time and its passing).

• Did you believe the myth?

• • Photo: Kati Fleming / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Mother Birds Won’t Reject Their Chicks If You Touch Them

From Redditor u/Nwsamurai:

Birds will reject a hatchling if it smells a human has touched it.

Turns out birds don’t rely on their sense of smell that much, and they’re generally happy to get their babies back.

Context: Birds are very likely to take their babies back even after humans touch them, but touching baby birds is still not advisable. Young birds may leave their nests before they can actually fly, and the adults will linger close by. Also, the presence of humans may ultimately draw predators, endangering the chick’s life. So it’s best to just leave them alone.

• Did you believe the myth?

• • Photo: John A Beal, PhD / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.5

In Fact, You Use 100% Of Your Brain

From Redditor u/HappyHighwayman:

We only use X% of our brains.

Context: Though a distressing majority of Americans think the average person only uses 10% of their brain, the truth is much simpler. In reality, studies have repeatedly shown how the majority of the brain is almost always in use, and this is true even when humans are sleeping.

Though it’s not entirely clear where this particular urban myth originated, it has by now become almost ubiquitous in popular culture.

• Did you believe the myth?

• • Photo: Orion 8 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

Women’s Periods Don’t Sync Up With Each Other Or The Moon

From Redditor u/GhostFish:

Menstruation has no connection to the moon, and women don’t sync up due to cohabitation or detecting each other’s hormones.

These are just events that roughly follow a monthly cycle. Over time they might appear to converge, but they will then diverge without people thinking about it.

Our brains are always looking for patterns, and this is a false positive like with pareidolia.

Context: The idea that women’s menstruation is linked to either one another or to the moon is one with deep roots. Researcher Martha McClintock gave credence to the former, and she seemed to have research to support her assertion. More recent research, however, did not bolster her claims, nor did it show any connection to the moon and its cycles.

As the Cleveland Clinic explains, the phenomenon of women in close proximity “syncing up” is just a matter of math: “Over time, a woman who has a three-week cycle and another who has a five-week cycle will eventually see their periods overlap. […] If you live with someone for at least a year, your cycles are likely to happen to occur together a few times.”

• Did you believe the myth?

• • Photo: Apricum / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

Please Don’t Feed Cats Milk – They’re Lactose Intolerant

From Redditor u/billyandteddy:

Cats like milk… Actually they’re lactose intolerant. Don’t give cats milk.

Context: For many people, it seems natural to give cats milk to drink, especially since this image is so commonly observed in popular culture, from books to TV to film. However, the truth is cats are often lactose intolerant, so giving them milk to drink is not a very good idea.

As is the case with humans, cats gradually lose the ability to digest lactose as they grow older, and drinking it can often lead to diarrhea.

• Did you believe the myth?

• • Photo: Steffen Heinz / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.5

Dogs Can See (Some) Colors

From Redditor u/Mewtual:

“Dogs see only in black and white.” They see colour but just a more limited range; they have blue and yellow colour receptors, just not red.

Context: For a long time, conventional wisdom stated dogs could not see color at all. Recent studies have shown how wrong this idea is. This myth has been largely attributed to Will Judy, and it has been repeated by many others.

In reality, while dogs have far fewer cones in their eyes (and thus can see fewer colors than humans), they can see them. They have what is called dichromatic vision, meaning they can see shades of blue and yellow but not red and green.

• Did you believe the myth?

• • Photo: Basili / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

Birds Will Not Explode If You Feed Them Rice

From Redditor u/hughgrang:

Rice will cause birds to blow up so you shouldn’t throw it at weddings. Allegedly invented by people who clean after weddings so they didn’t have to deal with crushed rice

Context: This myth has had a remarkably vital life in the popular imagination, propagated by the likes of Anne Landers. A state legislator even tried to pass a bill banning the throwing of rice at weddings. However, many ornithologists have argued it simply isn’t true.

Many birds regularly eat rice in the wild with no negative effects and, moreover, rice doesn’t even expand as much when soaked in water as standard birdseed.

• Did you believe the myth?

• • Photo: DanTD / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

You Shouldn’t Wait 24 Hours To Report Someone Missing

From Redditor u/ZXsaurus:

You have to wait 24+ hours to report someone missing.

Not true and dangerous. The first hours are the most important of finding a missing person. If you suspect someone as missing, REPORT IT ASAP. I’d rather have the “damn there you are, you scared the hell out of everyone” talk than hear a eulogy of someone.

Context: The myth of waiting 24 hours to report a missing person is not only wrong but, as the poster notes, very dangerous. Most law enforcement agencies recommend you call the police as soon as possible after you notice a person, particularly a child, is missing.

The first 48 hours are absolutely crucial to finding them, so time is definitely of the essence.

• Did you believe the myth?

• • Photo: W. Bulach / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

No, Yellowstone Is Not ‘Overdue’ For An Eruption

From Redditor u/Mirraco323:

I’m a geologist, and the idea that the Yellowstone caldera is “overdue” for an eruption drives me insane. That is only if you base its eruption cycle on the previous two eruptions. The time between the 1st eruption and 2nd eruption was just under a million years, and it hasn’t been that long since the 3rd and most recent eruption.

But really, volcanoes do not follow cyclical eruption patterns as the public seems to believe. It’s important to note that the term “relative” in geologic time and human time is not even near the same. Something could be “relatively recent” in geologic time, and that could mean 20 million years ago.

Lastly, even if the caldera did erupt, an eruption there is not guaranteed to be a violent explosion. It could be a flow that seeps out as well. The likely hood of a violent Yellowstone eruption is stupid low, and certain people only like to go around telling people it’s “overdue” because they have no life, and get a jolt out of being the person who makes people nervous over dumb sh*t.

Context: Though Yellowstone is located in a very volcanically active area, there is no reason to believe a major eruption is imminent.

Scientists have noted that volcanoes do not follow a set schedule in terms of eruptions. Even if they did, there would still be approximately 100,000 years left before Yellowstone would be “due” for a major eruption of the sort so many people claim is soon to arrive.

• Did you believe the myth?

• Photo: Lauren Scope / USFWS / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

Lemmings Do Not Throw Themselves Off Of Cliffs

From Redditor u/wrongsideoftownz:

Lemmings do not throw themselves off cliffs.

Context: Unlike many other cases of urban myths, the source of the image of lemmings committing mass suicide does have an identifiable source: the Disney film White Wilderness, in which the producers forcibly shoved lemmings off a cliff in order to provide more drama for the audience.

In reality, lemmings do not throw themselves from cliffs, though large groups will frequently relocate to a new home, which may have helped to add credence to Disney’s fraudulent representation.

• Did you believe the myth?

• • Photo: Jaysin Trevino / Flickr / CC-BY 2.0

Cracking Your Knuckles Does Not Cause Arthritis

From Redditor u/IsaacTower:

That popping your knuckles will give you arthritis. It will not give you arthritis. It is annoying to hear people pop their knuckles, so maybe somebody said that to make them stop, but I swear, if I hear somebody repeat that lie one more time…

Context: Despite what people have been told by their elders, there is no evidence suggesting cracking one’s knuckles leads to arthritis. The process actually involves displacing the fluid that lubricates the joints. However, it is worth noting the practice can actually weaken one’s grip strength, so it might be a good idea to cease doing it.

• Did you believe the myth?

• • Photo: Kommissar / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

Your Hair And Nails Do Not Continue To Grow After Death

From Redditor Groundbreaking-Goat3:

Your hair and nails still grow after death.

The truth is the moisture in your skin is drying up because you are dead and the moisture causes elasticity… It causes your skin to “shrink” and pull back, which is also why our skin get thinner as we age. All that’s happening is the nails and hair that was hidden within our previous hydrated bodies is now being exposed due to lack of moisture.

Context: As the original poster observes, this is simply a result of dehydration. As the body decomposes it dehydrates, leading the soft tissues to shrink and withdraw, making hair and nails appear to grow post-mortem.

• Did you believe the myth?

• • Photo: David Benbennick / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

America’s Interstate Highways Were Not Designed To Allow Planes To Land On Them

From Redditor u/LeonardGhostal:

US highways are required to have one straight mile out of every five miles to serve as emergency airplane runways.

No, they don’t.

Context: As is so often the case, it’s unclear where this myth originated, though it has now become a staple of the internet, finding a place on many “strange facts” websites.

In fact, as the unofficial highway historian of the Federal Highway Administration has noted, there is no evidence whatsoever that this particular regulation was part of any of the legislation that founded the interstate.

• Did you believe the myth?

• • Photo: National Library of Medicine / Flickr / No known copyright restrictions

Colds Are Caused By Viruses, Not From Going Outside Without a Coat

From Redditor u/Imunderyourskin1243:

That going outside with out a coat when it’s cold out will 100% give you a cold! While low temperatures can affect the immune system, if you are not in contact with a sick person you will not get sick. Cold temperatures do not magically create viruses and bacteria.

Context: Though the viruses that cause the common cold do thrive and reproduce better in colder temperatures, there’s no evidence wearing a heavier coat or other garment will affect one’s chances of getting sick.

Did you believe the myth