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Understanding The Psychology of Superstition

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Superstition involves the belief in some supernatural process, such as opening an umbrella in the house causing bad luck or quotes like “knock on wood”, which refers to not jinxing yourself or others and even “stitions”, which are non-supernatural beliefs that involve health practices like wearing copper bracelets for arthritis. Being superstitious is something we often learn as children. While several of us grow to recognize that these superstitions aren’t valid, countless individuals ensure that some supernatural or magical phenomena are factual. But if they aren’t logical, why do people tend to believe them? Most superstitions have been around for many generations and individuals with similar cultural backgrounds usually practice the similar types of superstitions. Myself and many of my own family members and friends practice superstitious behaviors, often without noticing them. If the claims are not true and have no scientific evidence or logic behind them, then why don’t people recognize that they are false and stop passing them on?

One reason appears to be just because other people tell them these things are true and individuals tend believe them. Another problem seems to be that superstitions are generally vague enough that no particular case will ever be clearly false. Superstitious people also are very good at finding excuses for why things didn’t work out as expected. These individuals can easily visualize magical effects or supernatural processes. Many of these superstitions involve getting good or bad luck, but since we don’t know what form the luck will take, there is no way to be sure if the prediction is true or false. Likewise, occasionally there will be cases where the expected effect of the superstition does come true. For example, maybe somebody will be carrying a rabbit’s foot when they win at a casino. Not only does this reinforce the so called “superstition” of individuals involved, the superstitious story is most likely to be passed around, reinforcing it for many others. However, wanting and needing more control or certainty is perchance the dynamic force behind most superstitions practiced. We tend to look for some kind of a decree, or an explanation for why certain things happen. “Sometimes the creation of a false certainty is better than no certainty at all, and that’s what much of the research suggests,” says Vyse (WEBMD).

Superstitious beliefs have also been linked to people with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). These individuals often have compulsions to practice certain rituals over and over again, often interfering with their everyday life. While some of the symptoms of OCD can mimic superstitious behavior (and the two aren’t mutually exclusive), most of the evidence would indicate there is no connection between the two. Superstitious beliefs and practices have also been linked to mental, emotional, and spiritual health, since something that is believed typically falls under these health domains. Phobic (fearful) superstitions can also interfere with our daily lives, and cause a lot of anxiety, says Vyse (WEBMD). For example, people who are afraid of Friday the 13th, might change travel arrangements or skip an appointment because of unnecessary anxiety and paranoia. These types of superstitions usually offer no benefits at all. Human behavior and thoughts of superstitions are extremely complex, which in this case some individuals could easily imagine a mechanism that would allow almost any assumption to be true. Since there are so many influences on behavior, individuals can always find an excuse if their hypothesis fails in any particular case. With “stitions”, are these principles really valid? Perhaps, but it may be that they are “stitions” where we tend to overlook evidence that would demoralize them.

A sense of security and confidence are feasibly the greatest benefits we get emotionally from superstitious thinking or behavior — like carrying an object or wearing an item of clothing that you deem to be lucky. Foxman (WEBMD) says “there is a positive placebo effect– if you think something will help you, it may do just that”. “There is a tremendous amount of power in belief,” he says. If the outcome is a matter of pure luck, the beliefs don’t really have any impact. However, when your performance is a key factor in an outcome, superstitious thinking might give you an extra lift. Studies regularly point to placebo effects (both positive and negative), which are entirely caused by the power of expectations or preconceptions. It is usually hard to know for sure whether some of these things are true, but short of developing careful experiments we can simply ask ourselves whether they could be false or not. Evidence is key. On the other hand, tradition and beliefs are not easily wiped away. Beliefs will continuously be a natural part of human thinking and rationale.

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Understanding the Psychology of Superstition. (2018, October 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 29, 2023, from
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