Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Compilation of Studies On Superstition, Sort of

Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, by Stuart A Vyse, is a book written by a man who is fascinated by the demographic makeup of superstitious people. He has taken every study he could get his hands on and thrown them all together to create his “monster” personality archetype of a superstitious person. He also includes studies to show the likelihood of superstitious development given various genetic and environmental factors-nature and nurture. It is most certainly a well researched and comprehensive book for anyone who has an interest in seeing all the possible relevant research done on superstitious and paranormal belief, though I found it to contain little writing beyond the introductions and explanations of the studies. The other point to note is that there is no apparent effort, on the part of the studiers, to replicate information. The studies were all done by different groups looking for different things, and using different methods, from questionnaires to video cameras. Some of them were not even done to study the paranormal, but were added to the book as they related to the topic laterally. My favorite of these being the concepts of still picture movement; the study found that the interval between the flashing of two pictures determined whether the viewer perceived them to plash simultaneously, in succession, or whether they were perceived as a moving unit, like in a projector.
Timothy J Lawson, in his book, Scientific Perspectives on Pseudoscience and the Paranormal: Readings for General Psychology, strongly emphasizes the importance of study replication in order to establish reliability of the results. He also speaks of the important scientific practice of random sampling. A very large issue with the studies that Mr. Vyse has compiled, which he does point out, is that they are taken from a very narrow demographic, usually college students, and as such, results about the population as a whole cannot be reliably gleaned. One thing of interest that is not mentioned by Mr. Vyse is the importance of weighing results. Most of the studies, whether done on chickens, college students, of random pedestrians, gave up some sort of result. However, what that result means and whether it tells anything useful is another matter. Since most of the studies were done singularly, it could be mere happenstance that the result gotten was any given characteristic. It may have been mere chance that the particular group of subjects was made up of more superstitious females and less superstitious males, for instance. The studies were done on small groups, usually volunteers, and alternate options for results were not thoroughly looked into. Since few of the studies have been replicated, and since some of them don’t relate directly to superstition anyway, like whether or not people will continue to engage in a behavior that is apparently torturing another human, which they will incidentally, Believing in Magic should be viewed as a good starting point for further inquiry. So if you are planning on putting together a study of superstition, read this book.

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