If so, you are not alone. It may surprise you to know that according to a 2012 CBS News poll, 51% of Americans endorse “knocking on wood” to insure good luck or ward off adversity, and 17% of Americans believe in the power of sports superstitions, like fans wearing lucky hats, to determine the outcome of a game!
What are Superstitions?
Superstitions are defined as beliefs or practices groundless in themselves and inconsistent with the degree of enlightenment reached by the community to which one belongs (Marmor, 1956).
In his book, Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstitions, research psychologist, Dr. Stuart Vyse notes the given our scientifically advanced Western society, superstition may seem paradoxical because our understanding of the natural world tells us that certain signs and gestures can not affect the events at which they are directed. He recognizes, nonetheless, that superstitions continue to be believed, passed down and are extremely common.
The Question is WHY?
While a number of reasons can be proposed, one central dynamic that seems to bear on the history of man’s belief in superstitions is the attempt to cope with uncertainty, be it about the possibility of rain in a poor village or winning the final round in a prestigious golf tournament.
As such, superstitious beliefs and gestures are acquired in different ways throughout our lifetime.
Family and Folklore
Often they are passed down as part of the fabric of family or culture.
Sports, Exams, Anxiety and Coincidence
Certain circumstances in which our own skills or performance change uncertainly to a win or loss, lend themselves to a broad acceptance of rituals.
Sports and performance events are fertile ground for superstitious behavior.
New Findings “ Positive Luck Enhancing Superstitions”
Notwithstanding the “ belief in magic” associated with such rituals, a recent study has shown that belief in rituals can, in fact, improve performance in a skilled activity.
In the famous, 2010 golf ball study by Lysann Damisch and colleagues, two groups were told to putt a ball into a cup. The group that was told that the balls they were given had been “ lucky” that day scored significantly better than the other group who were told nothing and handed the same balls.
We must consider that when a skill is involved, the thought that you are wearing your lucky sneakers, doing your ritual, or using your lucky pen may well increase confidence, reduce anxiety, allow more focus and result in improved performance. But…
Superstitious rituals in sports, testing taking or related life events become maladaptive when the belief in the “ magic” of the hat, pen or ritual obscures the person’s actual functioning, preparation and belief in self.
If an athlete decides they can’t play because they can’t find their headband or a student spends so many hours looking for his lucky pen that he wastes hours of studying, their confidence in self becomes hostage to their superstition.
Uncertainty, Religion and Superstitions
Superstitions to cope with the uncertainties of life are common and universal. Perhaps on some level we will always use them. As such, it is importance to keep in mind the balance of what they take and what they give. Expanding on the sentiments of Stuart Vyse,
We never want a belief in magic to take away a belief in the magic of ourselves.
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» Superstitions: Coping with Uncertainty ... (May 27, 2014)
Last reviewed: 27 May 2014