Friday, August 7, 2020

Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition (Book Report)

        According to history, superstitions have been practiced for over 5,000 years. Many people today still believe in superstitious rituals. They believe that superstitious rituals ultimately increase their chances for success. For instance, some college students use lucky pens or pencils during exams. Students believe that using their lucky pen or pencil will allow them to achieve a higher score on their exams. In Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, Stuart Vyse discusses pseudoscientific ideas that many people believe to be real. Vyse explains the behavior behind one’s pseudoscientific actions and how it impacts a person. Many of Vyse’s explanations are supported by data and psychological evidence. In addition to pseudoscientific ideas, Vyse distinguishes between religion and pseudoscience. Specifically, he discusses how religion is not the same as superstition. He creates an understanding between superstition and religion by defining it in his own terms. Overall, Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition is an interesting book that goes over the reasoning behind some of the irrational and superstitious rituals that humans do.

         While reading Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, chapter 2 piqued my interest. In chapter 2, Vyse discusses superstitious rituals and ‘good luck’ charms that supposedly increases the success rate of a desired outcome. For instance, many college students use lucky pens or pencils during an exam in order to increase their scores. While reading about superstitious rituals and ‘good luck’ charms, I felt that I could personally relate to this topic. Personally, I use a lucky pen and pencil whenever I take exams. However, I do not believe that using the ‘lucky’ pen and pencil increases my score through luck. In fact, I believe that using a ‘lucky’ pen or pencil reduces my anxiety while taking an exam. The pen and pencil comforts me during the exam since I have been using it for a long time. The ‘lucky’ pen and pencil reduces my anxiety allowing me to think clearly which ultimately leads to a higher exam score. Another superstitious ritual that some college students’ practice is going to the testing site prior to the testing date. Visiting the testing site allows the student to relieve any exam related stress or anxiety. By using this pseudoscientific method, I believe that it reduces my anxiety which ultimately leads to a better score.

         Many people around the world practice superstitious rituals because they believe that it will increase the chances of their desired outcome. People who practice superstitious rituals blindly follow and accept it without slow thinking (critical thinking). Slow thinking is “reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do” (Robert Ennis). Slow thinking is harder to do daily since it is not the natural states of affairs. On the other hand, fast thinking relies on cognitive heuristics, rules of thumb, presuppositions, biases, assumptions, and intuitive flaws. Most people that practice superstitious rituals rely on fast thinking because they use biases and baseless assumptions to justify their actions. If the people that practice superstitious rituals observe any increase in success rate, then they will continue to practice their superstitious rituals without critically analyzing the data. Although their ritual is not scientifically proven to work, many still practice irrational rituals without question. Fast thinking is not always used for the worse; it can be used for good too. Specifically, some students struggle with exam anxiety which negatively impacts their testing performance by obtaining a lower score. Students can lower college anxiety levels by using pseudoscience. A real-world use for superstitious rituals and ‘lucky’ charms could be to reduce anxiety levels. Like a placebo pill, students can practice superstitious rituals or keep a ‘lucky’ charm to lower anxiety levels. My personal ‘lucky’ pen and pencil comfort me during exams which ultimately leads to lower anxiety levels. The lower anxiety levels allow me to think clearly which leads to better performance on the exam. This pseudoscientific method could be applied to help people with anxiety disorder. Aforementioned, fast thinking can be used to help people with anxiety. On the other hand, fast thinking can be used to trick other people such as talking with the afterlife from Derren Brown's video. Overall, fast thinking has its benefits and downsides.


  Here are my ‘lucky’ pen and pencil:



  1. Hi Jeremy! I actually love this topic, and can totally identify with what you have described. I always wear my "lucky" bracelet that's really just a bracelet my best friend gave me, but I don't take it off. I won't leave the house if I don't have it on , because, like you, my "lucky" item is more an anti anxiety tool than something I believe will increase my luck throughout the day.

  2. I find it so interesting that people form attachments to inanimate objects in such a way. I think that in a harmless way, as most pseudoscience, it can be fun and comforting, such as carrying around a "lucky" pen. It only becomes truly harmful when it gets out of hand, such as a "lucky charm" empowering people to do something dangerous or irresponsible such as extreme stunts or gambling. Everything in moderation.