Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition

        The book I will review is Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, by Stuart A. Vyse. This book uses a highly scientific, specifically psychological approach, to assess superstitious thinking. Superstition is the primary focus, but this can be broadened out into a general view of topics such as magic, cryptozoology, astrology and other strange beliefs. The book focuses on superstitious beliefs, the individual, how superstitions work in the mind, how people develop into being superstitious, and why this matters. There a variety of mechanisms that play in to this, such as conditioning, social context, beliefs and experiences in youth, and wanting to have a level of control over life. One of the main points made is tah people irrationally connect things that are not connected. An athlete may have a lucky pair of socks, or have some sort of pre-game ritual. It does not affect their performance, but if they were to not wear the socks, and then have a poor performance, they would think it is because they did not wear the socks. This is similar to students taking exams. Someone may have a lucky pen that they use, and believe they will do better if they use the pen. Tests can come down to really slim margins, so even if you only do 5 percent better, a superstitious person would attribute that to their lucky pen.
            I think my favorite parts of the book were the sections on superstition and coincidence, and growing up superstitious. I think these two parts tie in to each other very well. I think the primary mechanism involved here is conditioning. The book makes a point that becoming a superstitious person is a learned concept, it is not inherent in an individual. All individuals have a different level of impression to superstition. It is not affected by demographics or where someone grows up. Social influence has a large role in this. I also see this as our immediate family probably has the largest role in influencing the individual to become superstitious. The next biggest influence in my view would be friends. These would be the people that we spend the most time with, and who can influence us the most. 
            Children are particularly influence able, as they are still developing. The book points out four different early stages of cognition development that children go through that affects their logic and reasoning processes. I think this is where superstitious behavior can develop. This also ties to the idea of coincidence. As with the example of the lucky socks or special pen, if you have those kind of rituals, and end up getting positive results from it, it will become more ingrained into you that those things actually affect performance, when again in reality, they are not.
            I do not think any of the specific lectures tie neatly into this book, but I think generally they all do. A core of superstitious thinking, is a desire for control and certainty of the unknown. Concepts like the UFO experiences, psychic detectives, mythical creatures, and out of body experiences are all ways people try to cope with experiences, or process how something is happening around them. They are ways to explain the unexplainable. It could be a way of dealing with trauma, or just not understanding something. The psychology of superstition and a superstitious person would tie in to this. Through conditioning and reinforcement of belief, someone’s superstitions can be strengthened. The book also points out how superstitious beliefs are irrational, but they are not abnormal. It is irrational because there are explanations for why things happen. This comes down to probability of outcomes, and that given enough chances, any result can occur. 
            I think this is a fairly strong concept to extend into the real world. Superstitious beliefs are becoming more frequent amongst the general populace. These beliefs range from astrology and horoscopes, to rituals before big events, to special charms, and much more. As said, these are all ways to try and exert some control over that which you cannot. I feel like that is a fairly common human trait, and one that really makes us human. Our lives are full of uncertainty, and this can be a great source of anxiety. If someone feels that their own special ritual can maybe help their chances at getting a promotion, or raise, or doing really well in a big interview, I think this is a good thing because it provides comfort to someone, and this belief could actually provide positivity and confidence and have a tangible effect on someone’s mindset.
            I embedded a video about positive thinking and the power it can have on an individual’s entire person. I think these concepts relate because superstitions are tied to wanting a positive outcome to something, and this is a similar way of viewing that.

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