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Posts from the “Myths” Category

True or False: More candy is sold for Valentine’s day than any other Holiday?

Posted on September 22, 2016

False.86 candy on valentines

Valentine’s Day, another opportunity for me to forget a “special” occasion for my wife and be riddled with guilt. As if remembering to buy gifts on Christmas, birthdays, Easter, anniversaries, ground hog’s day, mother’s day, and of course helping my kids pull off an April Fools prank isn’t enough! Valentine’s Day, celebrated on February 14th, was established in AD 500 and has traditionally been a day for lovers to display affection for each other by offering gifts of cards, candy, and flowers. It is thought that the designation “Valentine’s Day” came from a Christian martyr or martyrs named Valentine. According to the website of the National Confectioners Association (NCA), one of those men, a priest named Valentine, was beheaded by order of the Roman emperor Claudius II on February 14th 270 AD because he was performing marriage ceremonies, something the emperor had outlawed. The website also says that more than 36 million boxes of heart shaped candy are sold for Valentine’s Day. Another tradition related to Valentine’s Day, in no way connected to lovers, is for children to exchange valentines at school. Our three children usually come home with dozens of valentines, and most of them have heart shaped candy, a sucker, or some form of cavity-causing delicacy attached to them. It’s really no surprise, then, that so many people think more candy is sold for Valentine’s Day than any other holiday. The truth is, however, that Valentine’s Day ranks fourth on the list of holidays for candy purchases. According to sales figures for 2007 compiled by the National Confectioners Association based upon data from Information Resources, Inc., and cited in an article published in Confectioner (2007), the top four selling holidays for candy were Valentine’s Day (1 billion), Christmas (1.4 billion), Easter (1.9 billion) and Halloween (2.1 billion). Trick or treat!          


Echeandia, J. Candy review: Holiday candy sales insights courtesy of Hershey Company; Seasonal candy sales for 2007 grew at Valentine and Easter in spite of short selling seasons. Confectioner (May 2007). 



True or False: Certain dogs can smell cancer?

Posted on September 13, 2016


Many people affection89 dogs can smell cancerately refer to dogs as man’s best friend. I’ve grown up with dogs and have always had dogs in my life, so I would wholeheartedly agree with that statement. Dogs provide us with companionship, help seeing-impaired individuals safely navigate streets and sidewalks, and help farmers and ranchers herd sheep and cattle; dogs are also used to locate missing persons and detect things like drugs and bombs (a dog’s sense of smell is estimated to be 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than a human’s). Recently, I had a chance to spend some time with a gentleman (Mike) from England at an outdoor archery range. Mike happened to have epilepsy and always traveled with his dog. I learned that day that Mike’s dog could warn Mike before he was going to have a seizure. Usually the warning (barking) came two to five hours before a seizure occurred, and Mike said his dog was right one hundred percent of the time. I was truly amazed! It now appears that dogs may also start being used to help detect cancer. A study by McCulloch and colleagues (2006) published in the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies examined whether dogs could be trained to detect cancer simply by sniffing someone’s breath. Due to increased oxidative stress, cancer cells emit slightly different waste products than normal cells. The results of the study suggest that dogs can be trained to smell cancer with high degrees of sensitivity and specificity. The authors concluded that “training was efficient and cancer identification was accurate; in a matter of weeks, ordinary household dogs with only basic behavioral ‘puppy training’ were trained to accurately distinguish breath samples of lung and breast cancer patients from those of controls.” The dogs used for the study were Portuguese water dogs and Labrador retrievers, but the ability to be trained to detect cancer is probably not breed specific.


McCulloch, M., Jezierski, T., Broffman, M., Hubbard, A., Turner, K., and Janecki, T. Diagnostic accuracy of canine scent detection in early- and late-stage lung and breast cancers. Integrative Cancer Therapies (2006), Vol 5, pp. 30-39.


True or False: There is a link between the full moon and bad behavior in humans?

Posted on July 18, 2016


90 moon and behaviorIf I were to base my response to this myth on what occurs in television shows and movies, the answer would be a resounding “yes!” TV shows and movies frequently have werewolves, zombies, and many other undesirables coming out during a full moon to engage in their sinister activities. These media outlets also exaggerate the amount of crime and abnormal human behavior that occurs during a full moon. This idea that the moon triggers a wide variety of deviant behavior in humans has been with us for many years. Consider that lunacy, which means insanity, is derived from the Latin word “luna” for moon. The full moon is frequently associated with or blamed for things like murder and other crimes, alcoholism, epilepsy, arson, natural disasters, suicide, and mental illness. It is also common for people to think that the moon influences things like the weather, fertility, and birthrates. We frequently read about police officers, paramedics, nurses, and physicians believing that crime rates increase and emergency room visits skyrocket during periods of a full moon. However, this belief is not supported by scientific studies. A few of the many studies that have been conducted on this topic have shown a relationship or association between the full moon and bad behavior, but the overwhelming evidence suggests there is no correlation between the two. Rotton and Kelly (1985) reviewed thirty-seven studies on this topic in an article published in the journal Psychological Bulletin and stated, “Although this meta-analysis uncovered a few statistically significant relations between phases of the moon and behavior, it cannot be concluded that people behave any more (or less) strangely during one phase of the moon than another.” Again, most of the studies conducted and published do not support the idea that the full moon influences human behavior in any way whatsoever.     


Rotton, J. and Kelly, I. Much ado about the full moon: A meta-analysis of lunar-lunacy research. Psychological Bulletin (1985), Vol 97, pp. 286-306. 

True or False: Cocoa butter eliminates stretch marks?

Posted on April 26, 2016

False.92 cocoa butter prevents stretch marks

Stretch marks (the medical name is striae gravidarum) are those linear scar-looking lines that appear on the skin. They commonly appear on the stomach and breasts but can also appear on the legs and buttocks. They are frequently a dark purple in color and are a source of embarrassment for many. Stretch marks sometimes appear following pregnancy, after large gains in muscle mass in weight lifters and body builders, or other significant weight gains in a relatively short time period. I experienced stretch marks my freshman year in college when I gained fifty pounds after just nine months (unlimited meal plan in the cafeteria). My wife also developed stretch marks following the birth of our first child. Interestingly, both of us were informed by healthcare providers that using cocoa butter would help eliminate stretch marks and would help prevent more stretch marks from occurring in the future. We both tried cocoa butter but didn’t notice any change in the appearance of the marks. After performing a quick internet search I came across many sites that promote the use of cocoa butter for stretch marks, but the claims of what cocoa butter could do were never backed up by scientific evidence. I was able to find one study (Osman, et al. 2008) where researchers randomly assigned pregnant women to a group that received lotion containing cocoa butter and another group of pregnant women to a group that received a placebo lotion that did not contain cocoa butter. The women entered the study during the first trimester of pregnancy and were instructed to apply the lotion until delivery. Following the study there was no difference in the development of stretch marks in the women who used cocoa butter lotion and those who didn’t.  The authors concluded that their findings did not support the use of cocoa butter lotion to prevent stretch marks.


Osman, H., Usta, I., Rubeiz, N., Abu-Rustum, R., Charara, I., and Nassar, A. Cocoa butter lotion for prevention of striae gravidarum: A double blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (2008), Vol 115, pp. 1138-1142.

True or False: Having a husband creates seven extra hours of housework a week for women?

Posted on March 31, 2016

True.91 husbands equal housework

It’s true! Having a husband does create an extra seven hours of housework each week for women. I have to admit I’m feeling a tinge of guilt as I sit and write these words. I’ve been scolded so many times for walking through the house with my shoes on that I’m surprised I still have shoes. I’ll also admit to having done the dishes a few times without using soap and throwing light and dark colored clothes together in the same load of laundry with the hope that everything would not turn out pink. Now, my wife cringes if I even get near the sink or the washing machine. I still get to take out the trash, pick up after the dog, and do most of the weeding in the garden, however. A research study directed by economist Frank Stafford at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research revealed that women sweep, dust, mop, clean, and pick up an average of seven hours more each week because of their husbands. On the other hand, having a wife saves husbands roughly an hour of housework a week. It’s interesting how much research has been done on who does the household chores. It really isn’t as simple as it was sixty or seventy years ago when more women stayed home and the expectation was that they would take care of much of the housework. Today, with many more dual income families, couples have to work together and decide who is going to do the laundry, cleaning, cooking, and tidying up. The study directed by Stafford revealed some interesting trends. Overall, women spend less time doing housework today (seventeen hours a week) compared to 1976 (twenty-six hours a week) whereas men do more than double the housework today (thirteen hours a week) compared to 1976 (six hours a week). The study also revealed that younger single women (in their twenties and thirties) did the least amount of housework a week, about twelve hours, and married women with more than three children did the most, about twenty-eight hours a week.


Public release date 4-4-2008

True or False: Cancer rates have increased dramatically over the past ten years?

Posted on March 23, 2016

False.94 cancer rates dramatically increased

Cancer is a disease whereby cells divide and grow abnormally, often spreading throughout the body and invading other organs and tissues. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), there are over one hundred different types of cancers with the main categories being 1) carcinoma, 2) sarcoma, 3) leukemia, 4) lymphoma and myeloma, and 5) central nervous system cancers. Most people know someone who has battled or is currently battling cancer. It is not surprising that most people mistakenly believe that cancer rates are on the rise, but just the opposite is true. The National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Trends Progress Report for 2009/2010 reveals that death rates for lung, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers, the four cancers that occur the most frequently, are on the decline. In fact, death rates for all cancers combined continue to go down. The report indicates that the number of people getting cancer has continued to go down since about 2000. Historically speaking, the incidence of cancer increased from the mid 1970’s to about 1990, then leveled off for the next ten years or so, and has been on the decline since. It is important to note that rates for some cancers are on the rise. Those would include esophagus, pancreas, liver, bile duct, testis, kidney, leukemia, thyroid, melanoma of the skin, and childhood cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States; heart disease is the first. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2007, 616,067 people died of heart disease and 562,875 people died of cancer. The NCI report also stated that blacks had the highest rate of new cancers, followed by whites, with lower rates for Hispanics and Asians. If you want to try and reduce your risk of getting cancer, avoid smoking, eat a healthy balanced diet, engage in regular physical activity, and maintain a normal weight.


National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Institutes of Health. Cancer Trends Progress Report–2009/2010 Update. Accessed 7-21-10.

True or False: People who drive red cars get pulled over more often?

Posted on March 1, 2016

88 red cars get pulled over more often False.

Every time my wife and I contemplate buying a different vehicle, we spend a lot of time walking around car dealerships and examining our many options. The first thing I usually notice when looking for a new car is the price tag. My reaction is often one of sheer horror—followed by disbelief—and this question: can that really be the correct price for this vehicle? Shortly after the sticker shock wears off, I take a good look at the color and ask myself: is this a color I can tolerate for the next five or even ten years? Inevitably, we come to a shiny red car and I have to sit in it, just for fun. I’ve always believed the old saying that red cars get pulled over more often for speeding. Just sitting idly in the showroom, they look fast. It turns out that there has not been a lot of research examining whether the color of vehicles impacts the frequency at which the drivers of those vehicles get stopped and/or ticketed. However, the little research that is available suggests that this is just an old wives’ tale or urban legend. Newman and Willis (1993) conducted the only published study I could find looking at car color and the chance of getting a speeding ticket. These authors monitored speeding tickets over a twenty-two month period and compared the frequency of tickets by car color to the frequency of cars on the road with those colors. They found that red cars get ticketed about the same amount as gray and brown cars. About ninety-five percent of the tickets in this study were the result of using radar, and many times when radar is used the speed is already obtained before an officer notices the color of the car. Some think that red cars give the appearance of going faster; there really is no good scientific evidence for this either. So go ahead and buy the bright shiny red car without fear of being pulled over and ticketed more often.      


Newman, M. and Willis, F. Bright cars and speeding tickets. Journal of Applied Social Psychology (1993), Vol 23, pp. 79-83.

True or False: “Only” children are more selfish, bossy, and spoiled?

Posted on February 11, 2016

Fasle.87 only children are spoiled

It is a common misconception that only children (sometimes referred to as “onlies”) are spoiled, selfish, and rotten little brats. To most people it makes perfect sense, and it may even be somewhat logical. When parents have only one child, that child gets all the attention, all the toys, all the affection, and all the coolest birthday presents; they don’t even have any competition selecting which cartoons they are going to watch on Saturday morning. How could they not be self-centered? There has been tremendous growth in the number of single child family units in the past five to ten years. There has also been a fair amount of research looking into whether only children are indeed spoiled and selfish compared to other children with siblings. It appears that they are not. Mancillas (2006) published a very good review article on the topic in the Journal of Counseling and Development stating, “There is clearly a need to correct the negative bias and stereotypes about only children, not only to benefit children and families but to ensure that mental health professionals, researchers, educators, and policy makers articulate an accurate understanding of only children and their families ….” Many children are spoiled and bossy at various times in their lives. I’m a father of three children, and I have to say that it has been my experience that every child (at least mine—and all my friends’ children) at some point thinks everything should revolve around them. This commonly happens in a child’s early years, but I’ve also heard that this can be the case during the teenage years as well, as shocking as that may sound. Everything I’ve ever read and been taught suggests that how a child acts and behaves is much more a result of parenting style than number of siblings or birth order.


Mancillas, A. Challenging the stereotypes about only children: A review of the literature and implications for practice. Journal of Counseling and Development (2006), Vol 84, pp. 268-275.

True or False: It takes twenty-one days to develop or break a habit?

Posted on December 10, 2015

False.95 twenty one days to form a habit

Most of us have habits we would like to change or can think of things we should be doing more consistently to improve our lives. Some of us would like to quit smoking, maybe become more active, eat more fruits and vegetables, floss our teeth on a regular basis, or even turn the television off and challenge our children to a game of chess. It’s a common belief that if you can change a behavior for twenty-one days, it will likely stick. Just for fun, as I often do, I searched the internet to see what was out there on this topic. I came across this from someone who really believes it takes twenty-one days to develop a habit: “In order to ensure behavior change, experts agree that it takes a minimum of twenty-one days to change a behavior.” The “to ensure” and “experts agree” portions of this statement were very interesting. I immediately thought of my father, who quit smoking cold turkey after thirty years of smoking one to two packs of cigarettes a day. He changed his behavior in a day and has never smoked since; that was about thirty years ago. I also think of many friends and acquaintances who were able to stop smoking, drinking, or gambling for more than twenty-one days only to fall back into their old addictive behaviors, sometimes even after months or years had gone by. Most of us know individuals who start an exercise program and do it religiously for weeks or months, only to eventually fall back into their sedentary lifestyle. An article by Webb and colleagues (2009) on breaking unwanted habits explored some strategies for changing unwanted behaviors; it also mentions factors that might make breaking those habits more difficult. I could find no reference, however, to the idea of its taking twenty-one days to either develop or break a habit in this article or any of the other scientific articles I reviewed.


Webb, T., Sheeran, P., and Luszczynska, A. Planning to break unwanted habits: Habit strength moderates implementation intention effects on behavior change. British Journal of Social Psychology (2009), Vol 48, pp. 507-523.

True or False: Medical errors in hospitals kill more people per year than car accidents?

Posted on December 10, 2015

True.96 medical errors in hospitals

I generally don’t take an alarmist approach to the topics I cover and write about, and I have to admit that I’ve not thought much about complications and deaths caused by the errors of physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals. However, since the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report in 1999 entitled To Err Is Human: Building A Safer Health System, it seems that more people are taking a closer look at this topic. The IOM report stated that at least 44,000 people, and perhaps as many as 98,000 people, die in hospitals each year as a result of medical errors that could have been prevented. In contrast, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show that in 2008, 34,017 people died in motor vehicle accidents. The IOM report defined medical errors as the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended or the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim, and claimed that these errors cost the country seventeen to twenty-nine billion dollars annually. It’s hard to imagine that in a country as advanced as the United States so many deaths are attributed to medical errors in hospitals. When most people think about the health care system in the U.S., they generally think that it is one of the best systems in the world. However, organizations that rank health care systems from various countries don’t show that to be the case. For example, the World Health Organization has ranked the U.S.’s health care system thirty-seventh out of 191 countries. Medical errors can be attributed to sloppy handwriting, lack of communication among healthcare providers, inappropriately prescribed dosages of medication, and many other scenarios. To help reduce the chance of a medial error occurring to you, make sure that you communicate well with your physician, get all your health related-questions answered, and get a second opinion if you are not feeling comfortable with the advice you are being given. 


Kohn, L., Corrigan, J., and Donaldson, M., eds. To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1999.