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.

References:

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

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