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  • Ivy Salloum (Writer); Stephanie Susinski (Editor)

TikTok and the Debate Surrounding Psychological “Fact”

You’ve seen it before: a photo shared by a friend or relative on your feed, informing you of an extraordinary, absolute truth about your psyche that you weren’t aware of. Maybe it’s about how you’re in luck because people who sleep in are inherently more intelligent or that people who try to make others happy tend to be the loneliest. Psychology “facts” in the form of memes or repeatedly copied-and-pasted text posts (AKA “copypasta”) have been commonplace on social media platforms for decades now. With the growing success of TikTok, a social media app in which users can post and share up to 60-second video-clips, these facts can be communicated in a similarly short and engaging format for users to consume content rapidly.

These psychological “facts” have become increasingly popular on the platform, thanks to creators like “@onlyjayus”[1]. Their psychology videos consist of Jayus jumping into the frame, filming themselves in the mirror using their phone, and introducing the video in a self-assertive way. One example of a popular opener is “Psychology tricks that I know work, because I use them,” effectively blurring the line between information taken from an outside source and personal anecdotal evidence[2]. They then list off different tricks that may or may not be intuitive, such as acting “crazy” if you think you are being followed or your life is in danger, or that tearing the label off your drink is a sign of sexual frustration[3][4]. These “facts/tricks” are communicated in an engaging manner, with Jayus constantly zooming in and out on their face to emphasize different aspects, using a dynamic tone, and using different camera transitions. While some of these “facts” may have experimental data to back them up, Jayus offers no sources for these claims, expecting users to take them all at face value. @onlyjayus is by no means the only Tik Tok creator generating content without sources references, some, such as Tik Tok creator @mralexgreen, going so far as to describe a form of telepathy (“if you can’t get someone out of your head, it is because they can’t you out of theirs”) as a “psychology fact”[5]. The popularity of content of this kind is at an extreme, with the hashtag “#psychologyfacts” on the platform now at 2.6 billion views.

For individuals who are not particularly well versed in the domain of psychology, these “facts” will be attractive. The idea that there is an absolute rule or law for thoughts, behaviours, or feelings that an individual has experienced can provide users with a sense of meaning or understanding of themselves or others. Having these “rules”, a mix of “psychology” and life hacks, packaged into neat, 60-second-or-less tidbits allows individuals to quickly absorb these preconceptions about themselves and the social world without having to take the time or cognitive energy to investigate for themselves.

However, there is a growing scientific community on TikTok, pushing back against the spread of information without adequate sources provided to support claims. A shining star of this community is @dr_inna or Dr. Inna Kavensky[6]. Dr. Kanevsky is a professor at San Diego Mesa College who works to debunk these baseless psychological “facts” and encourages users to do their own research into subjects of interest. She also provides links to scientific sources/articles to support what she discusses in her videos, giving users evidence-based resources to decide on the information they want to believe. She commonly discusses popular and commonly debated topics on the app, such as learning styles, the Myers-Briggs personality tests, and Astrology. Her style most often consists of sarcastically refuting others’ claims by “duetting” (making a video response) to popular creators’ videos, encouraging viewers to ask questions such as “How would we test this?”, emphasizing the importance of critical thought and reliability[7].

The harm done through misinformation relating to psychology has been debated by creators and commenters. It can be argued that these videos are for entertainment purposes only and not to be taken seriously by viewers. However, psychology “facts” videos amass millions of views, and creators such as @onlyjayus have millions of followers, perhaps enhancing their perceived credibility for users; why would someone this famous lie to me? The importance of critical thinking and the inclusion of sources is crucial. These videos may serve as the first point of contact for some and be the beginning of an interest in psychology as a career. One commenter argued against Dr. Kavensky’s debunking videos, stating that Dr. Kavensky’s responses are a form of “gatekeeping” within the field of psychology, therefore, discouraging others from exploring it as an interest completely[8].

However, could it be necessary to have some form of regulation around information relating to the field of psychology? As Dr. Kavensky says, “No properly trained psychologist is going to be talking about psychology “facts.” Because that is not how psychology works”[9]. Social media posts reducing psychological theory and experimentation may be undermining the science and research that the field is built upon. Dr. Kavensky and other members of the scientific community argue that it is pivotal that creators and users question the reliability of the information delivered and consumed on the platform. With the rate at which we consume media today, it is essential to be mindful of what we see and what we say online to ensure that accurate information is circulated for all.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

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