28 myths of modern life exposed (2023)

Fake news might be making headlines, but the myths of modern life have been fooling us for years. We put some of these factual inaccuracies to the test and see what science has to say about them:

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1

A penny dropped from the top of the Eiffel Tower could kill someone

The building used as the basis of this myth varies. Much more constant is the terminal velocity of a penny, which is around 44km/h (27mph). The penny reaches that speed after it has been falling for about 15 metres. Once the penny has reached its terminal velocity, it will not accelerate any further.

Physicist Louis Bloomfield at the University of Virginia used this calculation to replicate the fall of pennies from tall buildings. He found that pennies at that speed would not break the skin – at most, they would just sting a little.

2

Bumblebees defy physics

They are big and fat with seemingly tiny wings, making their flight seem improbable. But since science is updated when there is new evidence, if a bumblebee’s flight really couldn’t be explained by current models then the physics would change. In reality, bees do not defy any laws of nature. Those wings do indeed provide enough lift to hold up the entirety of a bumblebee’s 0.2g.

3

Local honey cures hay fever

Tablets containing pollen are somewhat effective at combating hay fever. Since some honey contains pollen, honey as a hay fever remedy seems plausible. But most honey contains little or no pollen. Even unfiltered local honey has no apparent impact on hay fever.

4

Goldfish only have a three-second memory

The life of a goldfish isn’t always filled with joys that are worth remembering: countless numbers of these small fish have little to look back on other than a short trip in a tiny bag before being flushed down a toilet. But goldfish do have a better memory than just three seconds – much better in fact. Goldfish can remember the route to take in a simple maze, for example.

A study by researchers at the University of Seville also suggested that the fish are able to develop and remember a mental picture of their environment. In the maze experiment, the fish could find their way to a goal from a start point other than the one from which they were trained.

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5

Turning the thermostat up high will increase the rate of heating

Unlike humans, who might meet an ambitious challenge by working harder, heating systems don’t put more effort in when they have further to go. Setting your thermostat to 30°C will only change the target temperature, not the heating speed. A higher setting will just risk wasting energy while getting you too hot.

6

You need to drink eight glasses of water a day

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Being dehydrated isn’t great for your health, but the idea that we need to drink eight glasses (around two litres) of water in order to stay hydrated has no real scientific backing. Research suggests that health can be maintained with a much lower water intake.

As concluded by Dr Heinz Valtin from Dartmouth Medical School, there’s also no evidence to specifically drink plain water. You can stay hydrated with any other fluids and the water that’s found in most food.

7

Mice love cheese

https://giphy.com/gifs/cartoons-eating-mouse-KINNqvn2SoUqQ

You’re not alone if you feel a sense of disillusionment after learning that your childhood cartoons were misleading you. Scientists from the University of Birmingham have confirmed earlier research by showing that wild-caught mice do not appear to have any apparent preference for cheese, and probably prefer seeds and grains. Crunchy peanut butter, another common mouse bait, was also not preferred (perhaps they prefer smooth).

Given that adult mammals tend to have little of the enzyme lactase, required for lactose digestion, cheese probably isn’t great for a mouse’s health, either. Plus, feeding cheese to a mouse is a criminal waste of cheese!

8

Houseflies only live for 24 hours

It may seem unfortunate that the annoying housefly lives for more than a day. They can actually live for several weeks. The 24-hour myth probably comes from confusion with the mayfly, of which many species do have incredibly short lifespans in their adult stage. Part of the reason mayflies can get away with such a short lifespan, while still being able to find a mate, is that they swarm. Since a swarm of houseflies might be more of a nuisance than the odd one buzzing round your kitchen, we should probably be thankful that they do not share the mayfly’s lifecycle.

9

Humans have five senses

A significant problem with the idea that we have five senses is that there is no uncontroversial definition for what constitutes a discrete sense. Regardless of how you define a sense, it’s clear that we have many more than five of them. The ‘non-traditional’ senses include nociception (the sense of pain), thermoception (the sense of temperature) and equilibrioception (the sense of balance). Admittedly, The Sixth Sense might not have been nominated for as many Oscars had it been about a boy who was able to sense how cold he was…

10

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Sharks don’t get cancer

There are plenty of documented examples of sharks with cancer. This myth has been used as the pseudoscientific basis for the use of shark cartilage as an alternative cancer treatment and is implicated in diminishing shark populations. The world of alternative medicine is filled with myths that could be included on this list, but not all such myths put entire species at risk. This one does.

11

You need to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day

Campaigns that aim to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables the average person consumes have taken place across the world. For example, in Australia they have the ‘2 & 5’ campaign. These campaigns are based on the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 400g of fruit and veg per day. The five-a-day target is pretty arbitrary – you probably won’t be a lot worse off if you only manage four, and six would probably be slightly better. Five a day might be a reasonable target if you currently eat little or no fruit or vegetables, but there’s nothing special about that figure in particular.

12

Superfoods are really good for you

Put simply, there is no academically recognised definition for ‘superfood’ – it is essentially a marketing term. While adding some berries and kale to your diet may be beneficial to your health, many of the specific claims made about various superfoods aren’t based on any real evidence. No single food has shown to be a health panacea worthy of the term ‘super’, and no one should think they can counteract the effects of a huge bowl of ice cream by liberally sprinkling it with goji berries.

13

MSG is bad for you

https://giphy.com/gifs/food-drunk-ponyo-vnDGy7ZfBBDGM

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a common source of the savoury ‘umami’ flavour found in many foods, such as tomatoes, soy sauce and parmesan cheese. It is used as a flavour enhancer by the food industry, but claims about MSG’s negative health effects have been around for a while, with supposed ill effects ranging from headaches to cancer. As a result, MSG has been studied extensively, and in 2007, a team at the University of Hohenheim examined all the research on MSG and concluded that even unusually high doses are not harmful. It has also been conclusively established that MSG makes things taste even more delicious.

14

Sugar makes kids hyperactive

It’s easy to understand why so many believe that sugar (a source of quick energy) causes hyperactivity, but numerous controlled experiments have failed to establish any causal relationship. The belief might be perpetuated by ‘confirmation bias’: a study at the University of Kentucky showed that when a parent was told that their child had just eaten a lot of sugar (even when they hadn’t), the parent was far more likely to describe their kid as hyperactive. Of course, this doesn’t mean feeding your children vast quantities of sugar is to be recommended.

15

Alcohol keeps you warm

Many a drinker has found alcohol makes them feel more resistant to cold weather on the walk home from the pub. This ‘beer jacket’ is the result of the blood vessels dilating, resulting in more blood travelling to the surface of the skin. Far from keeping you warm, alcohol is more likely to put you at risk of hypothermia as it can impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature.

16

Adults can’t generate new brain cells

Several areas of the adult brain contain the neural stem cells required for the growth of neurons. These areas include the dentate gyrus, thought to be involved in memory formation, and the olfactory bulb, which is involved in our sense of smell.

17

The tongue is divided up into different sections

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https://giphy.com/gifs/biology-ted-Du3hyuC7pPOYo

The absence of an umami section is not the biggest problem with the tongue map. The idea that our tongues are split into sections has been perpetuated by textbooks and teachers for decades, yet it has no basis in physiology. The receptor cells that identify the molecules underlying the basic tastes (sweet, sour, salt, bitter and umami) are distributed on taste buds all over the tongue.

18

Caffeine dehydrates you

https://giphy.com/gifs/video-coffee-health-iMVOd6539oHvy

You may find yourself visiting the bathroom more frequently after consuming tea or coffee. This is probably due to the diuretic effect of caffeine, which is suspected to irritate muscles in the bladder. But even if you do pee more often, it doesn’t mean you’re passing a greater volume overall. The effect of caffeine on urine output has been investigated in numerous studies, which have been reviewed by dietician Dr Carrie Ruxton. She found that a moderate intake of caffeinated drinks is unlikely to have any significant effect on your overall level of hydration.

19

We use only 10 per cent of our brains

The origin of this myth is uncertain, but it didn’t originate from the scientific study of the brain. The myth is often found in self-help books that claim to tell you how to harness the power of the brain’s other 90 per cent. In reality, all the parts of the brain are highly specialised and there don’t appear to be any unused sections that you could learn to activate in an attempt at self-improvement.

20

Ginger-haired people are going extinct

Red hair is caused by a recessive variant of a gene, which means you need two copies of it to be a redhead. Currently, redhead alleles are found at a much higher concentration in some populations in northern and western Europe. It’s possible that as those genes spread out the probability of two people with a redhead allele having a child will diminish, which might make redheads less common, but as long as the genes are there, we will still have redheads.

21

Left-brained people are logical, right-brained people are creative

As described by the University of Utah’s Jared Nielsen in a study of brain scans from over 1,000 individuals, there is no evidence of left- or right-brain dominance. The idea that there are left-brained people who are logical and right-brained people who are creative may be a useful metaphor, but it has no more basis in actual science than astrology does. Though a left-brained Gemini like myself would say that.

22

Shaving causes hair to grow back faster and thicker

Shaved hair that hasn’t yet been exposed to the bleaching effects of sunlight may appear darker. And compared to the tapered end of an unshaved strand of hair, the sheared ends usually feel coarser. While these two effects might make recently shaved hair seem thicker, there is no evidence that shaving influences the growth rate or thickness of hair.

23

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There’s a chemical that turns purple when someone wees in a swimming pool

Although this myth might serve a noble purpose, there is no ‘urine indicator’ that could be put into pools. In principle it may be possible to create a chemical that is colourless in the absence of urine, but colourful in its presence. But the difficulty in ensuring that it doesn’t result in false positives probably wouldn’t be worth the investment. Along with the difficulties in developing such a dye, you could probably also guarantee that any pool that used it would have a constant purple tinge.

24

You lose a lot of body heat through your head

If you leave any one body part exposed to the elements, that body part will play a major part in your heat loss. The 7 per cent of your body’s surface area that covers your head isn’t in any way special, however. The myth often claims a figure of around 50 per cent heat loss through the head. The implication of this percentage is that you’d be as warm if you went out wearing nothing but a balaclava as you would be if you went out fully clothed but without a hat. Feel free to try this at home.

25

Barefoot running is better for you

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Barefoot running has grown in popularity over the past few years. The proponents usually claim that running without traditional running shoes improves form, prevents high impact ‘heel strikes’ and reduces injury rates. However, media articles supporting barefoot running generally rely on questionable evolutionary hypotheses or anecdotes.

A group of researchers at the University of Cape Town examined papers looking at the biomechanics of barefoot versus traditional running. Dr Nicholas Tam and his team concluded that while barefoot running might reduce the risk of certain injuries, such as knee pain, it may also increase the risk of others, such as stress fractures to the feet. Individual experience may vary, but there is so far no scientific basis on which to prescribe barefoot running to reduce injury rates.

26

Playing classical music to babies makes them grow up smarter

https://giphy.com/gifs/classical-ksZBitxkeAFTa

There may or may not be a correlation between intelligence and an appreciation for classical music. ‘The Mozart Effect’ that suggests classical music improves children’s intelligence was first described in an early 1990s study, but since then, it has not been established as a robust phenomenon that survives study replication. Parents’ time is probably better spent teaching their children that correlation does not imply causation.

27

Stretching before exercise prevents injury

Finnish researchers analysed studies covering almost 5,000 participants and concluded that stretching before exercise had no effect on injury rates. However, a gentle aerobic warm-up will prepare the muscles for a workout.

28

A malfunction at a particle accelerator could suck the entire planet into a black hole

The idea that particle accelerators, particularly the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), might cause Earth-threatening black holes has been in the news since the LHC opened. Micro black holes are hypothesised to be generated by high-energy particle accelerators like the LHC, but they wouldn’t be a threat to the planet. Unlike their massive astronomical cousins, the hypothetical micro black holes would evaporate almost instantly. And although it would be an important discovery, no micro black holes have been detected at the LHC so far.

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FAQs

What is an example of a popular myth? ›

Some examples of famous myths are: Hercules and the Lion (Ancient Greece) The Birth of Horus (Ancient Egypt) The Children of Lir (Ireland)

What other myths persist in our society? ›

These are listed below, in no particular order.
  • The Pursuit of Happiness.
  • The Land of the Free.
  • The Promise of Tomorrow.
  • The American Dream.
  • The American Way of Life.
  • The Myth of Equality.
  • The Fountain of Youth.
  • The Triumph of the Self.
Dec 30, 2019

What's a modern myth? ›

Modern mythology refers to characters and images that remain popular and in use in modern writing, entertainment, and popular thought which have gained a mythological stature or nature due to such works.

What is the most popular myth? ›

Greek Mythology's most famous tales
  • Theogony: Clash of the Titans. According to Hesiod's Theogony, in the beginning, there was only Chaos. ...
  • Τhe Three Sisters of Fate. ...
  • Prometheus and the Theft of Fire. ...
  • Pandora's Box. ...
  • The Abduction of Persephone by Hades. ...
  • The Name Giving of Athens. ...
  • Theseus and the Minotaur. ...
  • Daedalus and Icarus.

What are examples of American myths? ›

These myths include the myth of Columbus and the 'discovery' of America, the Pocahontas myth, the myth of the Promised Land, the myth of the Founding Fathers, the myth of the melting pot, the myth of the American West, and the myth of the self-made man.

What are the 4 types of myths? ›

Introduction. There are four basic theories of myth. Those theories are: the rational myth theory, functional myth theory, structural myth theory, and the psychological myth theory. The rational myth theory states that myths were created to explain natural events and forces.

Can you give me an example of a myth? ›

Some examples of famous myths are: Hercules and the Lion (Greece) The Birth of Horus (Egypt) The Children of Lir (Ireland)

What are some universal myths? ›

These myths are so near-universal that their prevalence is downright spooky.
  • 10 The Great Flood.
  • 9 Paradise Lost.
  • 8 Epic Cosmic Battles.
  • 7 Vampires.
  • 6 The Atlantis Myth.
  • 5 A God's Resurrection.
  • 4 Dragons.
  • 3 The Hero's Quest.
Jan 16, 2014

What are the three main types of myth give an example of each? ›

3.2: The Three Types of Myth
  • A natural aetiological myth explains an aspect of nature. For example, you could explain lightning and thunder by saying that Zeus is angry.
  • An etymological aetiological myth explains the origin of a word. ...
  • A religious aetiological myth explains the origin of a religious ritual.
Feb 4, 2021

What are the three common types of myths? ›

The Three Types of Myths: Aetiological, Historical, and Psychological. There are actually many different types of myth, not just three.

Is Harry Potter a modern myth? ›

The stories of Harry Potter most far reaching match Ranks pattern and their structure is similar to that of other hero myths, such as that of Romulus and Remus. Therefore Harry can be seen as an archetypal hero and his stories as a modern hero myth.

How do you write a modern myth? ›

Myths: 5 Tips on How To Write Mythology
  1. Research myths from the real world. Reading myths from a diverse set of cultures and time periods will help you understand what makes up a good myth. ...
  2. Make your myths entertaining. ...
  3. Decide on a point. ...
  4. Give your myths context. ...
  5. Consider how history changes myths. ...
  6. Resources.
Jun 13, 2019

What is the oldest myth? ›

The Epic of Gilgamesh – The Oldest Story in The World
  • An Epic Tale of Gods, Men, and Beasts. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the work of an anonymous Babylonian poet, about the king of the walled city of Uruk (now part of Iraq in modern times). ...
  • Written on Clay. ...
  • The Legacy of Gilgamesh.

What is an example of a myth story? ›

In Greek mythology, a popular myth is the tale of Daedalus and Icarus. In this myth, a father, Daedalus, builds him and his son, Icarus, wings in order to escape from the maze in which they are being held captive.

What is the oldest recorded myth? ›

While Shuruppak's fatherly wisdom is one of the most ancient examples of written literature, history's oldest known fictional story is probably the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” a mythic poem that first appeared as early as the third millennium B.C. The adventure-filled tale centers on a Sumerian king named Gilgamesh who is ...

What are 10 characteristics of myths? ›

Match
  • What is a Myth? A myth is considered a true explanation of the natural world and how it came to be.
  • Characters. Often non-human and are typically gods, goddesses, supernatural beings or mystical.
  • Setting. ...
  • Plot. ...
  • Natural Laws. ...
  • Social Action. ...
  • Mystery. ...
  • Dualities.

What is a cultural myth? ›

A cultural myth is a traditional story that has a meaning attached to it. These myths have an effect in they way people lead their lives and even how they interact with each other. It is notable that myths have a role to play be it personally, or to the wider society.

What is a myth Grade 7? ›

Myths are stories that have been told for centuries and used to explain a natural phenomenon or teach a lesson.

What is a myth Grade 6? ›

A myth is a traditional, ancient story that is fictional.

Myths were often written to explain natural phenomena and quite often involved gods and fantasy creatures.

What are the 6 elements of a myth? ›

Elicit from them that myths—like other stories—contain the following elements: characters, setting, conflict, plot, and resolution. In addition, myths usually explained some aspect of nature or accounted for some human action. Frequently, myths also included a metamorphosis, a change in shape or form.

How do myths impact today's society? ›

Myths are as relevant to us today as they were to the ancients. Myths answer timeless questions and serve as a compass to each generation. The myths of lost paradise, for example, give people hope that by living a virtuous life, they can earn a better life in the hereafter.

What is your personal myth? ›

A personal myth is the central story behind the various episodes of one's life. Personal myths, like cultural myths, are stories that never were, but are always happening. Their impact is profound because they operate largely outside our conscious awareness.

What are the 8 characteristics of a myth? ›

Terms in this set (8)
  • Explains natural Phenomena.
  • Many gods.
  • Gods and Heroes are superhuman beings.
  • Gods have emotions.
  • Contains magic.
  • Gods appear in disguises.
  • Good is rewarded and evil is punished.
  • Contains Violence.

What is an example of a myth for kids? ›

Myths and Legends Poems for Kids

Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind. The story of the boy who flew too near to the sun. Jason and the crew of the Argos set out on an epic quest to find the golden fleece, and claim it for their king.

What are morals myths? ›

In The Myth of Morality, Richard Joyce argues that moral discourse is hopelessly flawed. At the heart of ordinary moral judgements is a notion of moral inescapability, or practical authority, which, upon investigation, cannot be reasonably defended.

What is a divine myth? ›

Divine myths involve a god or gods and goddesses. They explain the ways of the gods and. typically the rules by which the gods and goddesses expect people to live. These myths are often set in a time and place apart from the modern world. Followers of some religions may consider divine myths to be sacred texts.

How many myth gods are there? ›

Estimates of over 4000 gods and goddesses plus fantastical animals with purported godlike powers have been worshiped throughout time. All these gods and goddesses were believed in with the same fervor as today's equally mythological gods are.

How many myths are in the world? ›

There are over a hundred different world mythologies that we know of today.

What religion is Harry Potter based on? ›

When the seventh book came out, Harry Potter series author J.K. Rowling revealed that Christianity largely inspired her narratives at a press conference to mark the beginning of her Open Book Tour in 2007. “To me, the religious parallels have always been obvious,” Rowling said.

Does Hogwarts exist IRL? ›

Harry Potter fans now know the exact location of an American Hogwarts, but the real one exists in England. Alnwick Castle stood in for the famed wizarding school in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The castle is one of many real-life locations used in the Potter films.

What creatures did J.K. Rowling invent? ›

It is worth noting that although dragons and basilisks put Harry and his friends in physical peril, the scariest creatures in the Potter universe are the dementors – creatures Rowling invented herself.

How do I write my own myth? ›

Creating a Myth for Your Story
  1. Give your myth distant origins. ...
  2. Start with your creation myths. ...
  3. Explain the unexplainable. ...
  4. Build your gods. ...
  5. Explain mythology's relationship to the present. ...
  6. Borrow from what's already there. ...
  7. Base your myth on an obscure mythology.

What is a good myth to write about? ›

Examples include: Eros and Psyche, the Myth of Creation, Daedalus and Icarus, Noah and the Great Flood, the myth of Arthur and Camelot, and The Rain Queen. Why don't you write a myth using one of these ideas as inspiration?

What myth means? ›

: a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon. creation myths.

Do we still use mythology today? ›

The overall ideas and many of the stories have stood the test of time and are still of interest, and many authors, from Shakespeare to the modern day, use mythology as inspiration and reference in their works.

How are myths relevant to modern times? ›

Another reason mythology plays an important role is because it becomes a foundation for a lot of religions that are practiced. These particular myths are stories that tell us about battles between good and evil. Every religion has stories like that, both ancient and modern.

What are 5 examples of myths? ›

Some examples of famous myths are:
  • Hercules and the Lion (Greece)
  • The Birth of Horus (Egypt)
  • The Children of Lir (Ireland)
  • Valmiki's Curse (India)
  • Thor's Hammer (Scandinavia)
  • Theseus and the Minotaur (Ancient Greece)
  • Isis and Osiris (Ancient Egypt)

What do myths teach us? ›

Myths are stories created to teach people about something important and meaningful. They were often used to teach people about events that they could not always understand, such as illness and death, or earthquakes and floods. Legends are like myths, but they are slightly different.

Why is mythology important in today's society? ›

Ultimately, studying mythology gives us context into our world, our literature, and our own beliefs. The significance of these myths should not be overlooked, and even a foundational level of study will prove beneficial.

Why are we so resistant to the idea of modern myth? ›

One objection to the idea of a modern myth is that, to qualify as myth, a story must contain elements and characters that someone somewhere believes literally existed or happened.

What are the 4 main purposes of myths? ›

In studying myths and religions around the world, Joseph Campbell recognized four functions of myth: mystical, cosmological, sociological, and psychological.

What are three myths? ›

The Three Types of Myths: Aetiological, Historical, and Psychological. There are actually many different types of myth, not just three. In fact, there are several entire theories of myth.

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