Three things you can ask when told of a (psychological) phenomenon

1. Is it true?

Often you don’t need to look any further than disbelieving what you’ve been told. We only use 10% of our brains. You can remove the mystery implied by simply doubting the assertion. No one is influenced by adverts, so why do they spend money on them Etc. Not true, no mystery, no problem.

2. Is it real in and of itself?

Are we talking about something that is real and seperate from other effects we are familiar with, or is it just an consequence of something else (which we’ve already dealt with). You’re told The children of Israeli pilots are 70% boys. It seems to be true- is it worth worrying about? Only if the sex bias in the children born to Israeli pilots continues passed the point it was brought to your attention. Otherwise it’s just selection bias – of all the national & professional groups in the world something statistically unlikely had to happen to one of them, and that’s the one you got told about.

3. If it is true, and real, is it manifest?

Lots of phenomenon in psychology can be shown in controlled experiments, but it’s not clear that they manifest in any practical way amoung the noise and confusion of the real world. You’re told movement of light attached to people’s joints creates a powerful subjective impression of a full moving human form.. It’s true. It’s real (probably). Is it any use? Yes – we can use of flourescent markers at the joints of cyclists to tap into the specialised circuitry for figure perception and therefore make cyclists more visible, and thus more safe [1].

Ref:
[1] Kwan, Irene; Mapstone, James (2004) Visibility aids for pedestrians and cyclists: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Accident analysis and prevention 36(3), 305-312