Although It Is Just a Superstition, Is It Safe?

Usually, Gate 13 is excluded from airports. Some structures omit the thirteenth storey. And nobody considers Friday the 13th to be lucky.

Triskaidekaphobia is the name for a superstition where people fear the number 13. Of course, the notion that the number 13 is unlucky is illogical, and for the majority of people, any apprehension about the number doesn’t amount to a phobia. However, a surprising proportion of people give the number a strong influence over their behaviour.

How about shattered mirrors? sable cats? stooping beneath a ladder? Whether or not we believe in superstitions, they have the power to affect how we act. Where do superstitions come from, and how do they manage to influence our lives so greatly?

According to Stuart Vyse, PhD, a psychologist and the author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, which earned the William James Book Award from the American Psychological Association, “No one is born superstitious, they learn to be.”

Despite the fact that there is no scientific proof that the number 13 is bad or associated with more accidents, popular superstitions are just that—popular and widely accepted. According to Vyse, “Even the business world is aware of this superstition and chooses not to deal with it.”

He makes the point that many superstitions have a long history and are linked to paranormal or supernatural phenomena. The term “superstition” is frequently used as an insult and is occasionally connected to religious or anti-religious activity.

Whether people like it or not, superstitions have simply become ingrained in culture and are passed down from one person to another, according to Neil Dagnall, PhD, a cognitive psychologist at Manchester Metropolitan University in the U.K. According to him, superstitions have the ability to affect our thinking and, in some situations, action because they are accepted culturally.

Luck charms and bad omens

According to Dagnall, personal experiences can also give rise to superstitions like a black cat crossing your path being a bad omen or a lucky charm bringing good fortune. When people make an unintentional connection between two unconnected events, such as winning a sporting competition while donning a specific jersey or pair of socks, “it can be pretty difficult to stop because it is spontaneous and unconscious,” he explains.

This illusion is an illustration of the dual process theory of psychology, also known as “thinking fast and slow” and made popular by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, PhD. Instead of more deliberate, critical reasoning, superstitions are the result of quick, intuitive thought. Even the emergence and maintenance of beliefs based on intuitive connections may have evolutionary advantages. The cost of believing a false superstition is typically fairly modest, but the sporadic rewards that result from successfully linking two seemingly unrelated occurrences may be significant enough to ensure that habit is maintained in the human psyche.

Whatever their roots, superstitions are typically a type of coping strategy for circumstances in which we want something positive to happen – or to avoid something negative from happening – but have no control over it. In order to cope with the worry brought on by this loss of control, we can act on a superstition.

Anxiety Regarding What Follows

The appearance of control helps us deal with anxiety, but there is no such thing as magic and it doesn’t actually work, claims Vyse. Because of this, specific, high-stakes sporting events like free throws in basketball or penalty kicks in soccer tend to be the focal point of a lot of superstitions.

Even those who are aware that their superstitions are unfounded frequently indulge regardless and get the same anxiety-reducing effects. However, some people are true believers who cannot be persuaded that their superstitions have no basis in reality. Even though people are aware that it is absurd, individuals frequently claim they simply don’t want to take the chance, according to Vyse.

In medicine, this phenomenon is known as the placebo effect, when recipients of a medication with no discernible therapeutic benefit yet experience its positive effects and feel better.

Additionally, the inverse occurs.

Sometimes people have the delusion that an intervention will be detrimental. Even when there is no therapeutic benefit, patients nonetheless experience unpleasant side effects after taking a placebo. This is known as the nocebo effect, and it is a frequently disregarded occurrence in the field of medication safety. It occurs when people believe that a therapy will hurt them, rather than the intervention itself.

Can we use these similar beliefs to our advantage if our mind is so potent that it can make us feel better without using medicine or worse after receiving a bogus therapy just because we believe it?

A group of golfers in Germany were informed by researchers that they were handed a lucky ball. In an experiment, the golfers attempted 10 short putts. The putts were made by 65% of those who believed their ball was lucky. Additionally, just 48% of the putts were made by a second group of golfers who were not informed that their ball was lucky.

However, when American researchers attempted to replicate this study, they were less fortunate and discovered no distinction between the two groups. The circumstance, according to Vyse, is one where “the effect looks conceivable, but the proof is inconclusive.”

Both Vyse and Dagnall assert that superstitions are mostly harmless and that it is pointless to try to convince someone otherwise. Superstitions can, however, occasionally incite such intense fear and anxiety that it develops into a debilitating phobia or over the line into obsessive-compulsive disorder. More immediate psychiatric assistance that aims to sever the faulty causal connection is required in certain circumstances. You should endeavour to think critically each day rather than intuitively, advises Dagnall. But it’s not always simple. He admits that it might be stressful to ignore intuitive emotions.

According to Vyse, confirmation bias also contributes significantly to the spread of superstitions. People frequently recall instances in which a superstition seemed to hold true. To overcome it, you must thus take a closer look at your past in order to find all the instances when it failed that you haven’t thought of or remembered. “Look more closely and create a history of bad things not occurring.”

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