Superstitions have been a part of my life since I can remember. I don’t know if it has to do with my guilty conscience or just thinking a routine or action brings me luck. Either way, I can’t get away from performing these acts whenever they arise in situations. After reading Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, by Stuart A. Vyse, I learned a lot about our minds and how it perceives things. Vyse uses specific examples throughout this book to demonstrate how and why people believe in superstitions. Being a psychology professor himself, he witnessed a lot of superstitious acts because superstition is frequently associated with fear of failure. He goes into how some of his students used lucky pens, held rabbit’s feet, dice, and teddy bears, as well as a need to simply see the cover of their textbooks as they took an exam to comfort them. Throughout the book, Vyse describes superstition as an escape route for many.
One of the most interesting parts of the book was when he gave us an example of a superstition experiment conducted many times by Mr. B. F. Skinner in the 1940’s; this experiment was titled “‘Superstition’ in the pigeon.” Skinner would place a hungry pigeon in a chamber where the feeder was controlled automatically by a timer. Every fifteen second, food would drop out. Since his pigeons were very active, they did not just sit patiently in front of the feeder (like I would do, with my mouth open). After just a few minutes in the chamber, Skinner’s pigeons would develop its own distinctive ritual, thinking that action caused the food to come out after two or three reinforcements of it working on cue. This experiment is a simple example of how minds work when it wants to believe something.
This book was a nice read for those interested in the human brain’s trickery and the understanding of how we perceive certain things in life. The break-up of the book with many examples kept it interesting and made me want to keep reading. It will be added to my book collection and re-read one day in the future for sure.