Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, by Stuart Vyse

The psychology of superstition has been a recent interest in my life, spawning from memories of certain unique and common rituals that I believed I had to perform in my life. Stuart A. Vyse does a wonderful job explaining the reasons behind why we feel the need to incorporate these different forms of irrational thinking into our lives. Importantly, he does this without being bias toward whether it is right or wrong. There are pros and cons to superstititious thinkin, which Vyse touches on. Some beneficial aspects that people attain from superstitions are using it as a way to decrease stress and anxiety and also having a sense of control over there lives. It is mentioned in the book that people strive for that understanding of why such a weird coincidence occurs. This is when superstitious beliefs occur, sometimes connecting two events in a cause and effect relationship, when they are not correlated whatsoever.

Vyse states, "I think that the influence of other people on us as we are growing up is very powerful. The stress we are under from particular events in our lives can also encourage superstition. Also, an important factor is that we sometimes don't understand the mathematics of life. We tend to think that a coincidence when it occurs is very unusual and therefore must have a special explanation. And in many cases if we understood the math involved we would realize the coincidence was not that unusual."

People would rather believe that something bad happened to them because it was Friday the 13th, rather than it just being a coincidence. This is when Vyse explains the cons of superstitious beliefs. One can become too obsessed with this irrational thinking that it can completely alter their behavior and increase stress and anxiety.

Vyse does a great job at explaining all aspects of the situation and giving his opinion, which is that regardless of whether superstition helps or hurts you in life, it is still completely irrational thinking. I could not agree with him more. I was once a child who believed in superstitious aspects in life, just like the majority of other children who had it passed down from their prior generations. With maturity came an understanding in my mind that the things I was thinking and doing were complete nonsense. Since my childhood I have been a much more rational thinker, using logic to explain certain circumstances, rather than using a scapegoat like superstition. Reading Stuart A. Vyse's book, The Psychology of Superstition was a very informative and enjoyable experience for me because it solidified my beliefs and opinions.

Below is a link to a very interesting video of an experiment performed on pidgeons that began to show signs of superstitious behavior. This same cause and effect relationship can occur in humans exactly as it was shown in the video, just on a more complex level.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. I enjoyed the report, the book sounds like a good read. That was an interesting video at the end about the pigeons. It seems to me that the pigeons looking over the left shoulder was more about animal instinct and adaption than about superstition.