Corporate training pseudoscience

Left brain, right brain, or just brainless?

Corporate training sessions are a great place to find pseudo-science. You can guarantee you’ll be told that we’re all still subject to ‘primitive instincts’ because we’re basically just cave-men. Or that people who think with their left brain are analytical, while those who use their right brain are more creative.

I don’t have anything against corporate training in general – it can be really helpful. But if you’re using scientific arguments it would be nice if there was even a bit of evidence to back it up. At best these theories are just anecdotes that might be slightly helpful, but at worst they’re stupid concepts that perpetuate myths about science.Corporate evolutionary psychology is one of the worst offenders. According to these convenient and superficially believable theories, we’re all still stuck in primitive patterns of behaviour that were useful adaptations for our cavemen ancestors. So men are aggressive because they were the ‘hunters’, while women are more passive because they stayed at home in the cave and looked after their hairy children.

Except there isn’t any hard evidence for this. We don’t even know that much about how these prehistoric people lived. And as for how their thinking patterns affect our modern-day lives at work, it’s all just speculation. A recent example I heard – that passive and aggressive behaviour is controlled by the ‘instinctive’ and ‘primitive’ part of our brains, and that we switch quickly between the two because this region of the brain is so small – wasn’t exactly convincing.

The left and right brain ‘theory’ is another one that’s now part of popular mythology – and it’s literally a myth because there’s so little evidence to back it up. Unfortunately you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, because this particular myth pops up everywhere.

Then there are the crazy statistics… we’ve all been told that ‘you only use 10% of your brain’ (you can always reply, ‘speak for yourself!’). And having a huge brain that is nearly unused wouldn’t be a very useful caveman adaptation, would it? Or what about figures like ‘over 90% of communication is non-verbal’? How would you even work that one out?? It also makes you wonder why telephones and email are so popular and useful…

The fact that this ‘popular’ (or maybe we should just call it ‘fake’) science is such common component of these training sessions might be one reason to be cheerful. Even science that’s wrong can add an air of authority to otherwise anecdotal advice, and its inclusion suggests that people are interested and respect ‘science’ as a rather vague concept. But there’s plenty of evidence-based, interesting research that could be included instead of a load of waffle.

For example, according to Richard Wiseman’s book 59 seconds, large amounts of research have shown that liars aren’t any more likely to appear nervous or avoid eye contact than people telling the truth. But they are more likely to be evasive when answering questions. That’s interesting and helpful research. But you probably won’t hear about it on your next course.

Instead you’ll be told that people who are lying look up and to the left, because they’re accessing a ‘visually constructed image’ rather than a remembered one (for which they’d look up and to the right). I don’t even know if this is true, but I certainly haven’t heard any evidence to back it up. But hey! Why let that stop them from spreading another myth?

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One Response to “Corporate training pseudoscience”

  1. ashutosh3012 Says:

    I agree with most of the examples that you quoted. Add NLP to that. However, the work in the area of evolutionary psychology indeed shows the presence of primitive instincts that misfire in the modern environment. You might refer works by Mark Van Vugt, David M Buss, and Tooby & Cosmides. In fact the theory of emotional and social intelligence also is based on those facts.

    I am most appalled by abuse of physics – especially quantum physics – to prove that thoughts can change the world and all.

    I totally agree that trainers should be more responsible while proving their points.

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