Saturday, July 16, 2011

Believing In Magic: The Psychology of Superstition

I read Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition by Stuart Vyse and I loved it! I thought this book was perfect for me since I do believe in some superstitions including the old “knock on wood.” Throughout the book, Stuart Vyse discusses why people may grow up being superstitious, why we as humans believe in superstitions, whether it is just coincidence or not, and of course magic. The psychology part comes in because Vyse tries to make sense of how these superstitions make sense in certain situations, such as dodging a common cold, winning a gamble or even experiencing ESP. After reading this book, I really didn’t notice exactly how many superstitions there are. Many of us have a lucky piece of clothing, a lucky song, or even a lucky piece that we carry around with us. Without really noticing it, we are being superstitious.

The first few pages of the book really drew me in by talking about some common baseball superstitions, and that is why I chose this book. My favorite part of the book is when Vyse talked about baseball superstitions. Vyse described an old baseball player, Wade Boggs. He was known as an outstanding baseball player, a player that hit the ball on average once out of three times. This baseball player made sure he ate chicken before every single game because he believed he played better when he ate chicken. “Having eaten, Boggs begins a pre-game ritual that takes five hours to complete and includes such eccentricities as ending his grounder drill by stepping on third, second and first base, taking two steps in the first base coaching box, and jogging to the dugout in exactly four strides” (4). If thats not someone who is superstitious, I don’t know what is! But apparently it worked for the baseball player who won many titles for having the most hits. I also really liked Vyse brought up “rally caps” which is when someone takes their baseball hat and wears it inside-out and backwards in order to will a team into a come-from-behind rally late in the game. I’ve been to a game when everyone put on their rally cap, and it was hilarious.

In my opinion, superstitions are something you shouldn't play around with. I don't exactly believe in superstitions, but in the case that they may be real, I do things such as knocking on wood, wearing a rally cap, being careful around mirrors in the event that I would drop one, and of course not walking under ladders. "Superstitions often spring from reasoning errors, but these mistakes (illusions of control, misunderstandings of chance and probability, confirmation bias) are common to us all...reasoning errors are a natural feature of our humanity" (208). That quote from Vyse sums up my belief on superstitions perfectly. This book relates to the course because almost every topic in our text book could be classified as superstitious. Aromatherapy, Arthritis pain due to weather, and more specifically the Q-Ray bracelet. If doctors can’t exactly determine why the bracelet works, maybe it is just a superstition. If one thought that if they wore the bracelet to ward off arthritis pain, they may just be teaching their brain to actually believe that it is helping them. Almost any erroneous belief I believe stems from superstitious beliefs.

Here is an article I found interesting: Just why hotels omit the 13th floor. It's an age-old superstition!

And another fun article about celebrity superstitions when they are about to perform, etc.


  1. Interesting book that you chose. I was amused at the part of the baseball player that had such a routine and won many titles. Sadly he attributed his skill and talent to that of superstition and not to his own hard work and talent.
    I am also a bit surprised Jennifer, that after taking this course and reading this book you still find error on the side of science and believe the importance to "knock-on-wood" and avoid ladders.
    So allow me to wish you sincerely, "good luck" in life!

  2. Many of us have a lucky piece of clothing, a lucky song, or even a lucky piece that we carry around with us. Without really noticing it, we are being