The Myth of Water and Myth in Psychology
August 2, 2011
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Recent article in The Guardian by Emine Saner debunking the idea that we need to drink lots of water: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jul/22/had-our-fill-of-water.
According to this (I have to keep reminding myself to say this: not everything you read in The Guardian has to be true), the original ‘2 litres a day’ idea came from a 1974 article that did say we needed this much water each day – but then pointed out that we get pretty much this amount from food and the ocasional cup of tea, without needing to drink much actual water.
This has lots of similarities with the points I made about myths in psychology.
I suggested that we perpetrated these (more or less) lies (Kitty Genovese and the 38 witnesses, the Hawthorne studies, Little Albert, the Stanford Prison Experiment) because:
- They’re partly true
- People thought they were true once
- They express things we think are true, really
- They express things we think ought to be true
- We like confirmatory stuff
- They help us to make sense of psychology
- They help us to help you to make sense of psychology
Does this fit with the water myth?
- It’s partly true: we do need to take in water, but we don’t need a litre of Perrier night and morning
- People thought it was true once: not quite, but it’s a story that’s been running a long time
- It expresses things we think are true, really: people die all over the world for the lack of water. Dehydration (usually as a result of diarrhoea and the lack of clean water) is the major cause of death for young children. If you, rightly, feel ashamed about this, you can donate to water aid here: http://www.wateraid.org/uk/. Endurance athletes can suffer badly from dehydration. Dehydration is a major problem for elderly people (more or less what my mum died of). Hangovers are partly the result of dehydration.
- It expresses things we think ought to be true: of course, deep down, water is the stuff of life, and water is vital for everyone (my Scottish ancestors thought slightly differently: whiskey is uisge beatha, the ‘water of life’, and I’m not arguing)
- We like confirmatory stuff: well, not confirmatory, but a belief that says we can improve our health and wellbeing just by buying and drinking enough water is pretty encouraging. Gets rid of toxins too, they say, though I’ve never seen a definition of what these ‘toxins’ are.
- It helps us to make sense of psychology (or our physiology in this case): though it’s been pointed out that it’s an experiential copout. We already have a good way of regulating fluid needs and intake: it’s called thirst. The promotion of water is an encouragement to us to deny our own experience; good training for other kinds of false consciousness.
- They help us to help you to make sense of psychology: well, there’s not a teaching motivation here, but there’s something that I should have mentioned about the psychological myths; they depend on thoughtless, lazy, repetition of factoids – once it’s printed a few dozen times that we need to drink at least two litres of water a day, every article about water/healthy eating/therapy/whatever takes that for granted without thinking about it.
Another factor about water, of course, is that there’s money to made from the myth. When I was growing up, the idea that people would pay out real money for bottles of water would have seemed ridiculous. It’s still pretty ridiculous, really.