Friday, July 28, 2017

Book Report

I am very pleased to have chosen Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, written by Stuart A. Vyse. This book brought to the surface the root of superstitious beliefs, why people become attached to them and the art of coincidence. Vyse uses proven psychological tactics such as Operant Conditioning that he paired with “superstitious experiments” to portray the power role of temporal contiguity in the development of superstitious behavior. An interesting and my favorite phenomenon came out of his experiment with Guthrie and Horton’s cats. They were conditioned to believe that a certain motion of pushing a pole would allow them to escape a puzzle box. Any push they made would open the box, however the cats were not trained to believe that. This brought about conditioning by coincidence. 

Vyse viewed conditioning by coincidence through human eyes after that. Rituals, obsessions, compulsions, phobias and cures were brought up to be analyzed by researchers because couldn’t these things be considered superstitions? Vyse analyzed multiple experiments by different psychologists to strengthen his arguments and points.  Superstition is something I have taken a great interest in since my early childhood. We often hear the phrase “knock on wood” or “don’t jinx it” when speaking of a scenario.

Aren’t we all conditioned by coincidence?  Vyse gives the example of Bjorn Borg at the French Open championship. His grandfather was listening to the game on the radio, and randomly spat in the water where he was fishing. At the same time, Borg scored a point. His grandfather continued to spit and Borg continued to score points, and won all four sets. Similarly, growing up playing softball I wore the same headband every single game because I believed it was good luck. I had teammates that wore the same socks, belts, and ribbons. Superstition is all around us, and conditions our brain in a certain way, similarly to the styles of learning lecture. We are conditioned in a certain manner based on how we grow up and our experience, and we learn in that way too. We learn by what we do daily. I believe mental disorders such as OCD can coincide with superstition. I also believe that superstitions may hinder or help the way we learn, by stopping us from doing something that may help us grow because of fear. Overall, I am glad I chose to read this book and take this class because these are the things I have wondered about from a very young age.

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