Here’s 20 words you are probably using wrongly, according to scientists

Rob Waugh
Hear Rex
Hear Rex

Have you ever described someone as ‘antisocial’ because they’re not keen on mingling with other people?

If so, you’re using the word wrongly, psychologists say: the correct term is ‘asocial’, as ‘antisocial’ people are obnoxious and difficult to get on with.

A new paper in the scientific journal Frontiers in Education has highlighted 50 pairs of words which confuse people – and which are often used wrongly.


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‘Words matter, and science is no exception,’ says Scott O. Lilienfeld, professor of psychology at Emory University, USA, and one of the paper’s authors. ‘All sciences rely on specialized terminology which must be correctly understood to master the field’s core concepts.’

‘In psychology, many terms are confused not only by new students but also by advanced students, psychology instructors, and science journalists. These misunderstandings can impede the learning of other psychological ideas.’

Antisocial vs Asocial

Antisocial people perform actions against others, frequently engaging in reckless, irresponsible, and at times illegal behaviors. In contrast, asocial people chronically withdraw from others due to shyness or not being interested in interpersonal contact.

Prejudiced vs Discriminatory

Prejudice refers to a belief, discrimination to a behavior. Specifically, prejudice means arriving at a premature — and usually negative — judgment of others based on their membership in one or more categories (e.g., African-American, Jew, obese, Republican), whereas discrimination refers to the act of treating others poorly as a function of this membership.

Race vs Ethnicity

Race refers to a class, such as Caucasian or African-American, that is defined by biological differences such as white versus brown or black skin. Ethnicity is a broader concept, such as German or Chinese-American, that includes race as well as cultural variables such as country of origin, customs, and preferred language.

Serial killer vs Mass Murderer

A serial killer kills multiple people in a string of incidents that are separated by ‘cooling off’ periods, whereas a mass murderer kills a large number of people in a single incident.

‘Sex’ versus ‘gender.’

The latest edition of the American Psychological Association’s style manual reserves ‘sex’ for biological differences and ‘gender’ for social differences. For example, when referring to men and women in the context of socially defined groups, one should typically use gender, not sex.

Anxiety versus Fear

Anxiety is associated with negative affect in the presence of an ambiguous and potentially avoidable threat, whereas fear is associated with negative affect in the presence of an imminent and largely unavoidable threat. Even after the threat is gone, anxiety tends to persist whereas fear tends to diminish or disappear.

Empathy versus Sympathy

‘Empathy’ versus ‘sympathy.’ Most authors define empathy as the capacity to appreciate or grasp the emotions of others. In sympathy, the individual typically experiences concern or compassion for the other person but does not necessarily have the same emotional experience.

‘Shame’ versus ‘guilt.’

Most research suggests that shame reflects a global negative evaluation of oneself following a problematic or unethical behavior (‘I am bad’), whereas guilt reflects a more specific negative evaluation of this behavior (‘I did a bad thing’).

Delusion versus Hallucination

‘ These terms are widely confused in popular culture and occasionally in peer-reviewed literature as well. Delusions are fixed false beliefs that are not widely shared by members of the individual’s culture or subculture, whereas hallucinations are perceptual experiences that occur in the absence of any sensory stimulation.

‘Obsession’ versus ‘compulsion.’

According to the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), obsessions are ‘recurrent and persistent thoughts urges or images that are experienced as intrusive or unwanted’ whereas compulsions are ‘repetitive behaviors or mental acts that an individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly.’

Schizophrenia versus Multiple Personality Disorder

‘Schizophrenia’ versus ‘multiple personality disorder.’ These terms are very often misused in popular culture, following the incorrect formula of ‘multiple personality = split personality = schizophrenia.’ Schizophrenia is characterized by a severe splitting of functions, such as cognition, emotion, and motivation, within a single person. In multiple personality disorder, now termed dissociative identity disorder, the individual’s mind ostensibly harbors two or more distinct ‘alters,’ that is, personalities or ‘personality states.’