Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Book Report: Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition

Believing In Magic: The Psychology of Superstition by Stuart A. Vyse is a book that goes through examples of superstitions and explains why people believe them. He explains that this irrational form of behavior is formed from one’s experiences, their cultural background, their religion, etc. I believe Vyse’s main point to be that people believe in these superstitious things so as to feel like they have control over something they wish to manipulate to have a certain outcome. It is a way for people to cope with life’s uncertainties and feel like they have some control over it. 
In the very first chapter, Vyse states that “uncertainty is an inescapable feature of the human experience” and that stuck with me throughout the whole book. That really resonated with me because it is so true. There is nothing false about that statement and I really never thought about it before. I am one of those people who doesn’t really like surprises in their life. I have a lot of anxiety so I like to plan out my days and just have a plan in general. I hate surprise parties, I hate being surprised just overall. So to me personally, it makes a lot of sense when Vyse explains that people believe in these superstitions because they don’t want to feel uncertain. They want to believe that if they engage in this certain behavior, that it will have an affect on the outcome, giving them some sort of control. 
I think my favorite chapter was chapter 3 because Vyse explains the psychology of contiguity and perception and how it relates to superstition. He explains that we as human beings are sensitive to coincidence and try to find meaning in it. We are sensitive to patterns and try to look for patterns even when there aren’t any. He explains that our perception of the objects and events around us that we witness are affected by timing and spacing. Behavior is acquired through direct experiences which equates to learned behavior or operant conditioning. In this chapter Vyse discusses the operant conditioning of superstitious behavior and how it can be conditioned. For example, if a baseball player spits on home plate before swinging a home run, he will convince himself that spitting on home plate helped him get a home run and continue to do so before he bats every time. 
I also really loved chapter 5 where Vyse talks about childhood superstitions. I never really paid attention to it or realized it until he mentioned it but we are constantly surrounded by superstitious sayings and such, especially as children. For example, the little sayings and rhymes we used to say as kids: “step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back” or “cross my heart and hope to die, if I tell a lie”. There are many more that we have all grown up with and it’s kind of funny to me that I never even realized how superstitious these little sayings are. 
After reading this book and mastering all its content, I almost feel a sense of enlightenment. I feel like I have a completely new way of seeing the world and even other people. The way Vyse explains how superstitious behavior is learned and manifests and spreads is so intriguing. Superstitions are not something we are born with but something we learn from our experiences, from others, from our culture, and even religion. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in psychology or anyone looking for an interesting book to read while in quarantine. The only thing I didn’t really like about the book is that at times I felt like Vyse gave too many examples and it just became repetitive. However, other than that, this book was really enjoyable and I’m glad I read it. 

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