Friday, June 11, 2010

Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition

Believing in Magic, by Stuart A. Vyse, is a book which examines human superstition; how it is acquired, why people continue to believe in such things, and what can be done to lessen beliefs in superstition. As an Associate Professor of Psychology, Vyse also explains superstition through psychological perspectives. Because superstitions are such a common part of modern society, this book relates to everyone around the world. Believing in Magic is full of wonderful information that can also become controversial, depending on one's personal position on superstitious beliefs.

Personally, my favorite part of the book was Chapter 6, "Is Superstition Abnormal, Irrational, or Neither?". I really enjoyed how Vyse explained the relationship between superstitions and mental disorders. He detailed "magical thinking" with regards to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Psychosis and Schizophrenia. I never thought that there was a link between mental health and superstitious beliefs until I read Vyse's book! I thought an amazing example of superstition and OCD was avoiding stepping on cracks while walking down the street. I remember as a child the saying "Step on a crack, break your mother's back", but I never thought how this old superstition could also be a belief of people suffering from OCD!

My favorite chapter of Believing in Magic about mental disorders and how they are intertwined with superstitions actually directly relates to Chapter 9.1 of Timothy Lawson's Scientific Perspectives on Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Although Lawson's chapter focuses on Multiple Personality Disorder, both books touch upon the idea that superstitious beliefs can simultaneously occur among people suffering from mental illness.

I found this hilarious cartoon that shows superstition I mentioned above.
I thought it was great that Vyse included a section of his book which gave ideas on what we can do about superstition. He explains that magical thinking should be discouraged, which I believe is true as well. If people around the world continue to believe in foolish things then all science will be lost and will essentially be covered by pseudoscience. Vyse says that some things that we can do as a whole are to: "teach critical thinking", "teach decision analysis", "promote science education", and "improve the public image of scientists". By doing these things, I think people will become more appreciate of real science, and will gradually let go of superstitious, foolish beliefs!

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