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The purpose of this blog is about trying to distinguish between what people believe to be true and what the actual truth is. Today, we are going to discuss superstition and the reasons behind so many people believing in it.

I have conducted a survey, which revealed that the vast majority of participants of the questionnaire conducted by myself in November 2011 do not believe in the popular superstitions listed below in the graph.

Preview of your graph

The results of the questionnaire clearly conclude that  the vast majority of participants do not believe in popular superstitions. I suppose a questionnaire like this one comes with its’ limitations. The limited number of superstitions doesn’t prove that people do not believe in other superstitions. There simply was no choice for them to express which superstitions they may believe in. A questionnaire certainly did show that a majority choose not to believe. Reasons behind choosing not to believe can differ. Whether all those who said they don’t believe really do not believe is a question which cannot be answered at this minute in time. Psychology students at UHI will all be taking the “Questions in Psychology module” and in one of the latest weeks we spoke about not believing in things such as superstitions. Perhaps this pushed some people into saying they don’t believe? There is no way of telling. I think most people spoke their mind and truly answered in the questionnaire, which then gives us some kind of an idea about popular perceptions on superstitions. A questionnaire is possibly the best way of getting direct answers quickly, to then be able to produce some kind of conclusions. The hypothesis was that believers and non-believers would be more or less balanced, so this questionnaire proved the hypothesis wrong. It showed in majority of cases over 3/4 of participants not believing in superstitions.

People who do believe in superstitions feel somewhat in control. If someone believes that walking under the ladder is unlucky, and will then choose not to walk under it, then he/she must feel as if they somehow saved themselves from bad luck. The same hapens when discussing about the opposite effect. If someone superstitious break a mirror, then he/she will believe they will have seven years bad luck. Now, is that justified in any way? Are people inflicting and causing ‘bad luck’to themselves,  if they prematurely believe they WILL have bad luck no matter what they do? People simply believe they will be exposed to bad luck if an ‘unlucky’ situation occurs.

“Recent research has shown superstitious behaviour and illusion of control in human subjects exposed to the negative reinforcement conditions that are traditionally assumed to lead to the opposite outcome (i.e. learned helplessness). The experiments reported in this paper test the generality of these effects in two different tasks and under different conditions of percentage (75% vs. 25%) and distribution (random vs. last-trials) of negative reinforcement (escape from uncontrollable noise). All three experiments obtained superstitious behaviour and illusion of control and question the generality of learned helplessness as a consequence of exposing humans to uncontrollable outcomes.” (“Human Reactions to Uncontrollable Outcomes: Further Evidence for Superstitions Rather Than Helplessness”, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section B   Volume 48, Issue 2, 1995).

If there is pressure from the society to be wary of certain situations and actions, then people who are exposed to such pressure will most likely have an unconsciuos reaction. This can be shown by comparing how parents teach children and superstitions. Parents teach kids not to do certain things. The same principle applies in adult life when people in society tell us about superstitions which will give us bad luck.


Human Reactions to Uncontrollable Outcomes: Further Evidence for Superstitions Rather Than Helplessness”, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section B   Volume 48, Issue 2, 1995


Today at work I was told by my colleague that her horoscope for this year said she would achieve new things she never thoought she could achieve. She then explained that at the age of (…) she finally decided to change a career, join night classes and persue a career she always wanted. She said that the horoscope prediction she read explained that she would succeed in everything she plans. She is a Scorpio. So am I. This made me think about how this year turned out for me. And to be quite honest everything I wanted to do, I am doing. I delayed starting university and I wanted to start this year, and I did. Other things come to mind too, but that is not the point of this discussion.

Later on that day I went on the internet and I searched for my horoscope for 2012. (I don’t believe in horoscopes, because I believe that everything we do is mostly up to us, unless something happens because of another human being). Reading how my year is going to turn out, I couldn’t help but smile. It told me that I will be successful in changing jobs, which I am planning to do, and I have been planning for a very long time. It told me and I quote “everything a Scorpio touches will turn to gold”… and so on…  For a cynic like me that burst of emotional happiness was very powerful. Suddenly I felt as if I can just do anything I want to do, and I WILL succeed. It was as if reading all these positive predictions gave me a moral boost, and made me realise I CAN do whatever I want to do. So, is this why people read horoscopes? Is it like a drug that helps them motivate themselves to try new things? It certainly made me feel a lot better at a time when I was feeling as if everything collapses.

Whenever I read a horoscope that says something negative I dismiss it. But when I read a positive horoscope it makes me feel better. Although I don’t believe in it, it gives a bit of hope that maybe it will happen.

I googled “why do people believe in horoscopes?” and YahooAnswers users mostly explained that people who read horoscopes are people who are afraid of the real world and need something out of this world to tell them what to do. I don’t think that’s the case. I think that some people read horoscopes just for fun, and to see what it’s going to say. Others read them for reassurance. Is it so unnatural to want a little reassurance sometimes?

When people read horoscopes and they come true, then is it because it was written in the stars and it would happen anyway, or is it because when people read positive and negative things about themselves they subconsciously make it happen? Like I said earlier, apparently I will succeed in changing jobs, well is it fate, or now that I read about it, will I pursue it?




Ibn Sina, also known by his Latin name Avicenna was born in 1980 in Central Asia, (what is now Uzbekistan). He is many would argue the most known Islamic philosopher.

Avicenna, imagined a fully grown man who just came into existence, falling. The man was falling with his limbs spread apart, and he was wrapped with material which would prevent him from feeling air flowing against him whilst falling. Avicenna said that this example proved the existence of the soul. The man couldn’t possible be aware of his being, so Avicenna compared this example with the way people perceive the world around us.  ““Flying Man” centres on the human soul’s awareness of itself”  (

If none of us had any previous memory and no recollection of any previous experience then surely we shouldn’t know and be aware of any senses around us – we wouldn’t know smell, hearing, taste and so on. (

Avicenna also talked about the Primitive Self Awareness. He spoke about self awareness being art of the human soul. This is contrary to what Aristotle believed – Aristotle ideas about self awareness were that self awareness is based on the previous knowledge we had and acquired through situations we were exposed to in the past. I suppose one can see both sides of the argument, and the decision to agree with one or the other philosopher mentioned above is entirely left to an individual.

So, what is self perception, and how is it explained by scientist? Self perception seems to be the reflection of how we feel about ourselves. Whether we are happy with who we are, whether we feel intelligent enough, good looking enough, funny enough etc., these very personal perceptions of self certainly mirror in our behaviour. (

Going back to Avicenna’s flying man, I wonder how the flying man would feel about himself? Would he be conscious of any emotions? Would he be scared? Happy? Sad? Clearly, based on what Avicenna was trying to show is that he wouldn’t feel any of those. One cannot help but wonder, though, as we are so used to feeling different emotions in different situations at all times. Is it only the previous experiences and the knowledge we acquired through experience? There is no definite answer as no one was ever in a  position where he/she just came into existence and was suddenly falling.

Our knowledge of physics clearly tells us that it is not possible for a man to be sitting/lying on top of a cloud, which is of course made of water evaporate in a mixed temperature. Yet when we see religious paintings, some people tend to believe it might be the case. So what would happen to our believe system if somehow it came to be possible to sit on a cloud? The point is, we see, we compare what we see with the knowledge we already have, but still sometimes we tend to believe.

So, is the reality what we think it is? I suppose it depends on everyone’s individual perceptions of reality. Certainly through my own personal experience I can say that my perceptions about the (what I though was) truth, changed many times. The more we learn and the more knowledge we gain, the more our perceptions change.


Facebook was launched in February 2004. MySpace was launched in August 2003. Going back to the 1980s; the internet ‘was born’ (to the public). From that crucial date social networking began.

People use social networking sites to communicate with friends, family, strangers. They create profiles online. They create avatars, which are, or are not, the virtual representation of themselves.

Social networking allows people to create a new persona for people who would like, for whatever reason, to challenge the way they are portrayed by themselves and/or others using the same social networking site. Sometimes, however, people need reassurance from others and so they create this exaggerated character which is the representation of what they would like to be portrayed as. They post every thought, every picture, every detail of their life. A study conducted by York University psychologist Soraya Mehdizadeh showed users’ narcissistic behaviour.  “Facebook users who were highly narcissistic or relayed self esteem issues spent elongated periods of time on Facebook and were aggressively self-promoting. “Self-Presentation 2.0: Narcissism and Self-Esteem on Facebook” found this behavior characterized in a user’s posts, comments, photographs, notes, and in the “About Me” section of their Facebook profile.”

“Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is defined in the DSM IV as “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy.” The Facebook study found that social networks offered “a gateway for hundreds of shallow relationships (i.e., virtual friends), and emotionally detached communication (i.e., wall posts, comments)”—common traits of NPD.” The study also showed people with NPD show “identity statements”.  ( ) They show themselves in the way they would like to be portrayed, even though their true self might not be as confident as their virtual self.

People often look for ways to  over-compensate the lack of confidence in real life by creating fictional personas. In recent years the form in which many insecure people do so is by using social networking sites. The reality doesn’t often agree with the virtual portrayal of the character. Reasons behind creating this fictional character vary. Some create the characters because they are insecure with themselves and want to change they way they feel about themselves; others create a second life online for themselves simply for experience. The matter of fact is that online you never really know and can never be sure if the person you are speaking to is the true representation of the real person sitting behind the computer screen.





Human echolocation

Echolocation is the ability for people to identify the position of objects around them with sound they produce. It is an extraordinary ability to determine where objects are, what size they are or even what texture they may be. The sounds produced are for example clapping, tapping or clicking. Human echolocation allows people to identify objects as the sound they produce creates a wave of a sound reflecting off of an object near them. Some blind people use this technique in order to help them place the objects near them. (

For most of us seeing something activates the visual cortex in the brain. For blind people who mastered the ability to echolocate the visual cortex is also activated. “Remarkably… the recordings containing echoes activated the visual cortex in the blind participants, but not the auditory cortex” ( When analysing these finding one certainly must wonder about the results. Why is it that blind people’s brains activate the visual and not the auditory cortex? Surely, it must come to mind that without actually seeing an image, and by seeing I mean neurons picking up signals our eyes are receiving and helping them recognize familiar objects, the visual cortex would not be activated.( So without the intervention of the eyes why is the visual cortex activated instead of the auditory one?  Researchers conclude that “blindness can lead to extensive brain reorganisation. Such changes can produce cross-modal activation, whereby sensations activate brain regions that would not normally process them”(

Ben Underwood, a teenager who used echolocation or Daniel Kish  both mastered this technique. National Geographic is currently running a program called “Test your brain” which shows just how much our brains deceive us and in fact do not show the reality we are convinced we see.


Colour perception

“Do you see what I see too?” (

I found this post very interesting. A few days ago I have watched the new program called “Test your brain”. The first episode was about paying attention. They pointed out that people pay attention to specific things we are focusing on, and our brains don’t register other things despite the fact that we can see them. Our brains are trying very hard to concentrate on a specific thing and registering it in great detail, that we simply miss everything else that goes around us. talked about how deaf people see colours, and how people speaking different languages see colours differently. This made me think about colours but in a completely different way. How do colours affect us?

Colour red, for example is associated with warmth, love, but also anger and frustration. Quite the opposites? So why is it that for a moment in time we associate red with love, and in another moment red  brings out the feelings of anger? There must be a connection between the way we perceive colours and how we feel emotionally at a certain time. Depending on your beliefs, even, the way you look and see colours can be different than for others. If you are strongly religious, for example, you might associate red with hell, or if you’re a romantic, then red will symbolize love. It depends on your emotional and psychological state of mind.

“Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions.” – Pablo Picasso   
Some colours are associated with warmth, relaxation, or calm. Certain colours can even increase your blood pressure, or strain you eyes.  (
Colour psychology can even be used as therapy.

“Several ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and Chinese, practiced chromotherapy, or using colors to heal. Chromotherapy is sometimes referred to as light therapy or colourology and is still used today as a holistic or alternative treatment.

In this treatment:

    • Red was used to stimulate the body and mind and to increase circulation.
    • Yellow was thought to stimulate the nerves and purify the body.
    • Orange was used to heal the lungs and to increase energy levels.
    • Blue was believed to soothe illnesses and treat pain.
Most psychologists, however, believe that colour therapy is exaggerated, and even if it does work it works for a very short period of time. (
So, our perceptions of colour and what it’s being associated with differs for every individual. A certain colour may mean something to one person, but something completely different for another person.

Body language

Body language is very important for us as future psychologists to understand. It is the foundation upon which we will form our ideas and perceptions about how an individual we observe behaves.

Television programmes such as “Lie to Me”, which is based upon body language and looks closely at body language and explains it thoroughly could be useful in understanding the basis of what body language is really all about.

Of course when talking about body language we have to understand that it comes in different forms and shapes. It can be used to show emotions, it could be used to fake emotions, to genuinely show something and this is done subconsciously, or body language in the form of sign language for example. I found a fun little website which allows you to clink on the links and tells you what symptoms you body language shows  – this is yet another way body language is used not necessarily by us actively.

When talking about body language we speak about the body either matching the emotions we are trying to express or not matching these emotions. As children we learn to lie in order to get what we want. We aren’t good at lying as it doesn’t come naturally to us – this is why it is so easy to determine whether children are telling the truth or not. As adults we gain more knowledge of lying and deceiving others and we become more aware of our body language. We learn to control the way our body moves when we are lying. Some of us do it better than others, of course. Looking right when talking to someone is an example of what we do when we lie about something. Looking right indicates that we seek the imagination section of the brain to work more actively. Looking away when lying is also a sign, yet staring can also show that someone isn’t telling the truth. Generally, exaggerated actions which show child-like behaviour which then indicates that someone is lying. Children exaggerate their actions by widening their eyes, moving their hands more or starring when they lie.  (

We use body language to express our emotions – those genuine and those not so genuine.

People have been telling lies and deceiving since the beginning of humanity. DePaulo & Bell, 1996; DePaulo & Kashy, 1998; Kashy & DePaulo, 1996 have examined that people lie daily and it consists of about 25% of daily interactions with others.
Historically, people have looked at ways to deceive others in order to convince them of their honesty. 
Emotional arousal hypothesis suggests that lying produces emotional states, which then influence the way be behave. An example of that would be fear, which then would contribute to being nervous and movements which would not occur 
under situations when a lie wasn't told. Liars may also try to counteract the lie by unnatural movements.
Hurd and Noller (1988) conducted an experiment where they asked participants to identify whether a statement was true
or false. Participants talked loudly about the decisions they were planning to make. When discussing a lie, participants were discussing whether a scenario was deceptive.
Larson, 1927 and Marston, 1917, examined that most people cannot identify a lie, scientific investigations have found a few approaches to detecting lies, such as a polygraph.

I came across an article this morning which states that psychologists believe that by simple washing your hands, having a shower or a bath you can get rid off negative emotions and feelings. This blog concentrates on people’s perceptions of the truth. So a simple task to everyone who is reading. Please, the next time you feel emotional in a bad way and you need to get rid of those negative feelings, whether it is guilt, disgust, anger or anything else you might feel, go wash off those emotions.

But Mr Lee, whose study was published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, said that washing off emotions isn’t always a positive experience. We can easily wash off those positive memories, just the same as the bad ones.

A study was conducted where participants had to think of an immoral deed they have committed in the past. Some were kept in a tidy, clean room with washing facilities, and some in an untidy, dirty room. They found out that those in the untidy room felt more guilty.

It’s so interesting how a simple act of cleansing can have an impact on our psychological perceptions of the truth. Cleaning oneself doesn’t change the fact or the nature of the immoral deed committed, yet it somehow makes us perceive the deed in a more positive light.

Here is a link to the website, where you can find an article.

“On average, people tell lies between two and three times a day, students being the more frequent liars.” Gozna et al

I lie very often at work. I work as a social care worker for the local council. At work we are faced with situations which require us not to tell the entire truth. Lying to elderly people, or not telling them the entire truth is not justified. Although they have the right to know the truth, telling them the truth would only hurt them – which is unnecessary. People with dementia who forget what was being said to them, do not need to hear often the hurtful truth. Often not telling them the truth means they are happier, and not sadened by what was being said.

The body language of the clients is always very easy to read. They lean towards me – this shows me they want to find out information. They often touch me on the arm – this shows they trust I will help them. Their facial expressions show the eyebrows being raised, eyes open wide. Sometimes people even cry and make non-verbal vocalizations.

My body language at the point of lying (or not telling them the entire truth) is often mirroring theirs. I would often lean towards them. I would mimic their facial expressions, touch their arms back to show my support and the fact that I try to understand what they are going through. This reassures them. Often I would also make non-verbal vocalizations such as “ohhhh” to show sympathy.

I feel horrible when I have to lie especially that they trust I will tell the truth. All that I’m trying to do is to safe them from pain, because even if we do tell them the truth, they will hurt for a while, forget and soon ask again – telling them the truth again will only hurt them again.