Thursday, April 30, 2020

Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition - Book Report

       Superstition seems to have never left us.  No matter where you look there are athletes who rely on rituals to win or actors telling each other to "break a leg" right before they go on stage, but why?  We live in a time where almost every phenomenon can be explained by science or a new form of technology.  As much as people rely on their phones to live they also will look to their beliefs for comfort or to understand predicaments that are unexplainable.  One such notion is that we have our own psychological processes that natural create rituals to fill our time during the day, give us our need for control, our desire to see more than just coincidences, and give us strength to cope with what may seem as unbearable.  Within the novel "Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition", author Stuart Vyse dives deep into why we rely on superstitions and the never ending appeal they seem to have over our complex human behavior.  

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        The first chapter "Believing in Magic" gives us a taste at what Vyse believes drives superstitious behavior and lays out what the book will discuss.  First and foremost, to truly understand why someone truly believes in a ritual or belief you have to assess their social environment they consistently partake in along with the cultural contexts.  It is interesting why he would examine people individually instead of in a large group because only then will they be able to achieve a clear reason as to what drives the persons individual behavior as their views could be swayed within a group setting.  It is also important to take into account that the book primarily focuses on the basic day-to-day superstitions the individual has instead of looking for the obscure.  With combination of a value system the individual lives by and an understanding of what superstition is, only then will they begin to create a structure that people live and breathe by. 

       The second chapter "The Superstitious Person" dives into the profile of a superstitious person and the group they are closely affiliated with.  These said groups include gamblers, college students, athletes, and their demographics.  As a college student myself it is was almost unfathomable to realize how many of my own beliefs I have to prepare for an exam or upcoming paper.  When it comes to our grades we all have a fear of failure and not being good enough, Vyse discusses how students prepare and how the stress of the situation may make them rely on magic or rituals that will somehow help them while taking their exam.  This is just one example that debunks the theory that superstitions are "going out of style", but certain beliefs come and go and when they leave they are replaced with new ones that have changed to an individual's new situation.

       Within the chapter five "Growing Up Superstitious", Vyse discusses the power social influence has on superstition, the magical lore of schoolchildren, magical thinking during childhood, and the socialization of superstition.  The first is touched upon at the end of the chapter as Vyse mentions how the need to conform to societal beliefs, the use of superstition among adults to make children learn to have obedience to authority and how the role of imagination allows our minds to wander into the "realm of what is possible".  Children and forms of superstition have been well documented and is still seen today.  One such example are oaths, the ritual declarations they state as a way to keep their word.  Another is the childhood superstitions everyone has had and many continue on to adulthood, such as if you step on a crack then you surely will break your mother's back.  These superstitions can go further with the magical thinking and beliefs that can dominate and child's mind.  Many of our greatest dreams come from what isn't real and when your a child you are simply playing with the idea of realism and what is actually plausible.  

        Overall Vyse has demonstrated a thorough understand of how complex human behavior can be and how interesting simple daily tasks are, especially if they can be considered a form of superstition. 

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