There are so many things about our day-to-day lives that we do without knowing why. Our subconscious, along with our primal and survival instincts, dictates more about our lives than most of us realize. There are theories behind why most of these psychological phenomena occur, and some of them have been so well researched that they even have names. Let's take a little journey into the unknown, and have a look at 40 psychological theories that will help us to understand ourselves a little better.
"At Least There's A Timeline For Healing A Broken Bone"
One of the common ways that people have of dealing with other people who are bothering them is simply to ignore the other person. As freeing as that might seem to the person being bothered, being ignored hurts a lot more (psychologically) than people let on.
Being ignored causes a similar chemical reaction in the brain as when we get physically injured. Please remember, just as no one enjoys breaking their leg, no one likes to be ignored either.
"Time To Update The List"
For years, there has been a friendly competition between friends all over the world to see who has more friends. Social media did not help these rivalries, if anything, it made them worse. Some people have thousands of friends on Facebook, but with how many of these "friends" are there meaningful relationships?
According to evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar's theory of intimacy circles, our brains are capable of maintaining 150 meaningful relationships, 500 acquaintances, and we're able to recognize 1500 different people. But, when it comes to those closest to us, however, well, they could be counted on one hand.
"View From The Top"
Without even realizing it, when we think about different objects, we don't picture them head-on. We generally picture them from an omnipresent view from above. Almost as though we're having an out-of-body experience.
When we imagine things, we do so with a "canonical perspective". Meaning, we see things from above, and usually, a little bit tilted.
"Right Back Where We Started From"
One thing that most people don't realize has happened, until it's been brought to their attention, is that our taste in music hasn't changed very much from when we were in high school (or maybe college).
In high school not only do our bodies develop, but our brains significantly develop as well. In fact, the rapid neurological development that our brains go through in our teens convinced us, that everything we listened to at that time was gravely important. Therefore, as we grow older, our brain recalls those sounds and labels our subconscious memory of them as "important". It's also why people say that high school was the best time of their lives.
"Somethings We Can't Ignore"
Whether we realize it or not, everything we do in life is done with one of three things in mind. Instinctively, our decisions revolve around the essential aspects of living, food, sex, and danger.
Can I eat it? Can I have sex with it? Will it cause me to be in danger? These three questions are at the base of all of our subconscious decisions because they are our three most primitive survival thoughts. Are the berries poisoned? Is that person fertile? If I get too close to that animal will it hurt me?
"I'm Exhausted...It's Time To Get To Work"
"Burning the midnight oil" or staying awake late into the night (early into the morning) is a common occurrence for individuals who rely on creativity for their livelihood. A tired brain is a creative brain.
The reason it's not uncommon to find our creative friends awake into the wee hours of the morning, is that when we're tired our brains are not able to filter out distractions, thus allowing the distractions to filter into our thoughts and create creativity.
"Their Feet Were Pointed At Me. I'm Flattered!"
The way we stand is usually dependant on who we're speaking to. There are 4 main positions that we put our feet in, and each one is rather telling about how we feel about other individuals.
If we are genuinely interested in what someone is saying, we point our toes towards them and give them our full attention. Likewise, if we feel threatened in any way, our tendency is to leave one foot askew (just in case we need to make a quick escape).
"Perception Is Everything"
Time is a funny thing. There's an infinite amount of it, yet never enough. At times, a minute could feel like an hour or an entire week can pass by in what seems like moments.
The interesting thing about time is that we experience it in our own ways and due to how our brains have been wired, no two people perceive it the same way.
Over the past few decades, flashmobs have become increasingly popular. Sometimes a mob can have a dozen people, while at other times hundreds can be involved. No matter how people take part in one of these flashmobs, they all seem to have a lot of fun and, at least, come across as though they all get along.
Participating in synchronous events has a way of making people feel connected to the other people involved. Just ask anyone who has ever danced the "Cotton-eye Joe" or "Macarena" together.
"Like It Was Yesterday"
With just the mention of specific events, we are able to envision them vividly. We remember specific details of the day of these events as though they had happened yesterday. This is because of something called a "flashbulb memory" or a "snapshot" of impactful moments in our lives.
Aside from moments from our own lives, every generation has its own historical flashbulb memory-inducing event. For instance, anyone who is old enough to remember the events of September 11, 2001, could probably tell us where they were when they first heard of the attack, as well as the details of what they did that day. Could they tell us what they did last Thursday though? Probably not.
"I'll Be Ready To Go In 10 Minutes"
Making a reservation at a nice restaurant is one thing, however, being on time for the said reservation is something completely different. Regardless of how hard we try to be on time for things, some of us can't help our tardiness.
The "planning fallacy" is when we underestimate the duration of time needed in order to complete a specific task. In other words, to put it simply, the "planning fallacy" is an example of someone having a poor concept of time.
"The Only Negative Here, Is On My PCR Test"
When feeling down, ever wonder why it takes more to cheer us up than vice versa? For decades, motivational speakers have been preaching to the world about the power of positivity. As it turns out, they might have been on to something.
It is a common belief amongst medical professionals, that negativity has a stronger effect on the brain than positivity. In fact, it would take five positives in order to reverse the effect that one negative event has had on us.
"Anyone For Some 'Spam N Limas'?...Anyone?"
If we have the time and desire to do so, cooking for ourselves can be fantastic. The only problem is, usually, by the time we've finished cooking we are tired and are dreading doing the dishes. Maybe that's why we appreciate other people's cooking more than our own.
It doesn't matter what someone else has whipped up. Just knowing that someone else did the cooking is enough to make any meal look appealing.
"Just Keep Swimming"
Forgetfulness has historically been a sign of lesser intelligence. If someone can't remember what someone had told them, they must not be the sharpest tool in the shed, right?
Wrong! Through their findings, researchers at the University of Toronto have suggested that individuals with higher intelligence might be forgetful because their memories filter out the useless information, but hang on to what each individual considers to be valuable knowledge.
"Did You Hear The Tone Of That Text?"
Just as our body language and handwriting can lead others to make revealing discoveries about our personality traits, texting can as well.
One theory is that if people send long text messages they are more detail-oriented in real life, while those who send short or one-word answers are generally more direct with their approach to life.
"What's In The Middle?"
It can be tough to absorb all the information that we're given while watching a three-hour film. It's even more difficult to retain the information of three films that all run for three hours, especially if the three films are all part of the same story.
Our memories are better equipped to recall what happens at the beginning and end of events. I'm sure that only hardcore fans could remember what happens throughout the Lord of the Rings Trilogy or the Harry Potter Series, however, almost anyone who has seen all the films will be able to recall how the two sagas began and ended. The middle is just fodder for the story anyway.
"It Always Feels Like, Somebody's Watching Me..."
Anyone who remembers what it was like to be a kid, remembers what it was like to get into mischief the moment their parents left the room. As soon as they came back, however, it was as though nothing had happened.
As much as we'd like to say that we grow out of that habit as we get older, it's simply not true. Even as adults, whether at work, home, or in a pub, we tend to be more well-behaved when we think there are other people watching us. It can be something as little as wiping our nose with our sleeve, but we're all guilty of something.
"Please, Let Me Get That"
Many of the things that we do on a regular basis, most people like to put down to good manners. However, more often than not our "manners" are nothing more than instinctual acts.
To treat others how we would like to be treated happens a lot more frequently than anyone realizes. For example, when passing through a door, we are usually inclined to make sure the door stays open long enough that it doesn't hit the person walking behind us. No one particularly enjoys having a door hit them in the face...as a result, subconsciously we make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else either.
"I Know I Didn't Have To. I Wanted To."
Ever notice that when someone gives us a gift, even if we know that they expect nothing in return, we feel a sort of obligation to return the act of kindness? It might take a day and it might take a year, but eventually, we will return the favor.
Some people will tell you that it's just good manners, but it's something more than that. The "law of reciprocity" states that when someone does something nice for us, there is a deep-rooted psychological desire to do something nice in return. More often than not, the reciprocating act of kindness even surpasses the initial one.
"Deeper Connections Need No Words"
We might have seen someone for 10 years and probably won't remember most of the conversations that we've had with that person, however, based on the previous experiences with them we remember the feelings we had when we were last together.
Actions definitely speak louder than words. Someone can give all the praises in the world and tell their partner that they love them more than anyone else, but once they do something to emotionally scar the other individual, it's that feeling of hurt and betrayal that remains etched in their memory, not the kind words.
"But He Said It Was Ok!"
Everyone has their own limits for how far they are willing to morally go. Usually, these limits are defined by the laws that are set out by our country's governing bodies. But what happens when the people in charge say that it's ok to do something that goes against our morals?
As the world saw in Germany in the 1930s, and again in the United States this past January, when a high-ranking government official gives the "okay" for their followers to commit heinous acts, the moral compass of the individuals in question stops working properly.
"What Did I Come In Here For?"
It is almost a certainty that, at least once, we have all gone into a room with a goal in mind, yet once entering the room the reason has eluded us. While most people relate this to general forgetfulness or short-term memory loss, researchers at the University of Notre Dame blame the "doorway effect".
Our brains are, apparently, not hardwired well enough to comprehend the change in levels when we walk through doorways. Since the "doorway effect" usually occurs when we're overworked or overthinking, I suppose the one way to prevent it would simply be to relax.
"We're All A Little Crazy Sometimes"
On occasion, when we're hanging out with friends, we feel a vibration coming from the pocket where we keep our phones. We check our phone...but nothing. No messages and no missed calls. A few minutes later it happens again. But our phone is still sitting on the table next to us, we didn't put it back into our pocket. Are we slowly losing our minds or are our phones possessed by supernatural beings? How is this happening?
Phantom vibration syndrome isn't a syndrome at all, it's actually a minor hallucination. When we're expecting a call or message, our cerebral cortex misinterprets our basic muscle contractions for the vibration of a phone. It's nothing to be concerned about though because about 68% of us experience these hallucinations.
"Shh, I'm Trying To See Where We're Going"
Driving in an unfamiliar place has the potential to be quite nerve-racking for someone who doesn't handle stress very well. That's why it's important to ensure that all of our senses are as synchronized as possible with our surroundings.
When we're confused, our senses sometimes get crossed up. I'm sure everyone has either been the driver or been in a car with a driver, who has turned down the car radio so they could better see where they're going.
"It's Easier To Make Other People's Decisions"
It is always easier to help someone else solve a problem they're having than it is to figure out the solutions to our own problems. For example, someone might be terrible at relationships but great at giving relationship advice. No, it's not because we "can't take our own advice".
To bring it right down to the basics, the "construal level theory of psychological distance" is based on the idea, that the closer we are (psychologically) to a situation, the harder it is for us to remove ourselves, far enough from our own situations, in order to think of all the available possibilities.
"Try Some Sudoku"
As great as it is to do nothing sometimes, there is only so much of nothing that we can do before we feel the need to do something. That's because our brains don't like to be idle.
Our brains are happier when we are using them. By sitting around doing nothing, we are wasting the biggest asset we have as humans, the ability to learn new things. Remember, an active brain is a happy and healthy brain.
"I'll Hold It, And Love It, And Hug It, And Never Ever Ever Ever Let It Go!"
Seeing something adorable, whether a puppy or a baby, evokes something in all of us that we didn't know we had. It brings out the desire to squeeze and squish the thing until it (figuratively) pops.
Don't worry, it's normal to feel that way. As a result of something called "cuteness aggression", when confronted with something unbearably cute, the only way to prevent the urge from overwhelming us is to look away. Go on. Try staring at this picture for 10 seconds without feeling anything...
"You've Got A Friend In Me"
Spending time alone is an excellent way for someone to find peace of mind, however, being alone and being lonely, are two very different things.
Being lonely actually has a negative effect on our health. Those who feel lonely are more prone to heart disease and have a lower ability to learn new things. According to VeryWell Mind, loneliness also acts as an accelerant for Alzheimer's disease.
"It's All An Illusion"
The illusion of progress is something that we all experience on a day-to-day basis. A simple way to explain this is by using coffee punch cards as an example.
Even though both cards above still have 10 empty places for stamps, customers would be more inclined to take the one on the right. Why? Because they already have 2 stamps on their card.
Ever been curious as to why telling a child that "slow and steady wins the race" doesn't have nearly the effect on them as telling the story of the tortoise and the hare?
It's actually because we are able to comprehend information better when it's delivered in story form. If the information is put into relatable context for us, there is a much better chance we will retain it.
"Not So Smart Now, Are Ya?"
What we see in our dreams is usually connected to the things in life that cause us stress or anxiety in some way. As a result, there are some things that we rarely, if ever, dream about.
One would be rather hardpressed to find someone who actively sees their smartphone in their dreams. We tend to dream about specific events as opposed to items. That's why, although we might be dreaming about using our phones while running from a crazed lunatic, in the dream we would most likely see the lunatic who's chasing us, but not the phone in our hand.
"It's Not You. I Just Need My Space"
One of the best parts of getting the week's shopping done in the middle of a weekday is that there are usually not many other people doing the same thing. In today's world especially, personal space is a coveted thing. There are always the people who need to ruin a perfectly good trip to the "essential goods" store by parking right next to us in an empty parking lot...
It's not just in parking lots. It's always a welcome sight when we get onto a bus or subway car and there are no other passengers on board yet. Until, of course, that next passenger comes to site down next to us...instead of any one of the fifty other seats. Unconsciously, people just need to be around other people. Albeit, some more so than others.
"It's A Love Hate Relationship"
People love to talk about how much they dislike global brands and the control they have over their respective industries. After further observation, it turns out these brands have become more like family than most of us realize.
When stressed out or feeling down, we are actually drawn to the images of brands and logos. The images are comforting and give us something familiar to turn to when nothing else seems to be going our way.
"Dream A Little Dream"
Whether we're at school, work, or home, sometimes it is extremely difficult to stay focused. Our minds have a way of wandering and neglecting what is right before our eyes. At the same time that we are physically sitting in class, our minds could be light-years away.
About 30% of our day is spent daydreaming. If the average person sleeps 8 hours a day, that means that we're awake for 16 hours a day. Out of those 16 hours that we're awake, 4 hours and 48 minutes are spent with our minds somewhere else.
"Just Do It!"
Although someone might never have picked up a tennis racket before, by watching other people play, they are able to pick up on the basic fundamentals of the sport.
This is called our "mental model". The "mental model" is the process our thoughts create in order to teach us the basics of what is necessary to complete a task we have never done before. We watch, we process, and we do.
"Don't Dwell On It"
As part of our survival instinct, we tend to obsess over the things that we don't have very much of. That's not to say that we become cheap or stingy, it's something much more than that.
Psychologically, when we are running low on something, a stress seed is planted in our brains to remind us. If we're running short of cash, our whole lives begin to revolve around money. If we're running out of milk and there's only one doughnut left in the box, it's stressful to think of when either one will be replenished. Remember how much less stressful life was when the box of doughnuts was full? Those were the days.
"Just A Few More Minutes"
Having trouble staying awake through the day? Finding it difficult to sit through countless hours of work without sneaking off for a quick nap in the break room? Well, that's because our brains are constantly trying to stifle our productivity.
One of the brain's main priorities is to conserve energy at all possible times. That's why it's common for us to continue taking naps well into adulthood. It's not laziness, it's survival.
"Please, You Take It"
The "diffusion of entitlement" theory is the idea that as the number of individuals who desire a specific item increases, each person involved feels exponentially less entitled to the item in question.
There is something almost sacred about the last slice of pizza or the last piece of cake. If we're eating alone there's no question about whether or not that slice will be eaten, however, as the number of diners rises we feel less obliged to finish the last one.
"I Dunno. You Decide"
Although we prefer to have as many choices as possible, due to our memory having a limit on the amount of information it can absorb at once, the more choice we have, the more confused our senses get.
If given all of those jams to taste, but only given one taste of each jam, there's a slim chance that any one of us would recall more than 4-5 of the flavors accurately when finished testing them all. When given too much choice, we usually just go with what's familiar.
"It's Like Looking In A Mirror"
If we spend enough time around someone there is a very good chance that we would pick up some of each other's gesticulations and habits. That is to say, we begin to act like each other.
"The Chameleon Effect" is the name for when we unconsciously mimic someone's actions, and it happens a lot more often than we tend to think. It's not just other people's hand movements and twitches that we pick up, we begin to speak like those whom we spend more time with and, sometimes, even begin to walk alike.