Monday, August 10, 2020

“Believing in Magic - The Psychology of Superstition” by Stuart A. Vyse

This book about the psychology of superstition explains the origins of some popular superstitions while also explaining the type of person who is more likely to abide by them while also attempting to explain why. Many of these superstitions branch off from centuries ago when certain circumstances occurring in close conjunction could be easily correlated. Regardless, the types of people most likely to be involved with superstition such as lucky tokens or behaviors include athletes, sailors, soldiers, gamblers, and college students. Examples of these particular superstitions includes eating chicken before every baseball game, using a lucky pen (or pencil), or even entering a classroom from a window before an exam. While all of these behaviors seem relatively harmless, the book goes on to explain the repercussions that a come with continued heuristic thinking associated with superstitions. As a result, Vyse attempts to connect data retrieved from past research to help connect the dots in the world of pseudoscientific superstitions.

My favorite chapter in this book was the chapter on coincidences, probability, and contingency because of how it addressed how people came to think about circumstantial superstitions. An example could be that a basketball player did really well during a portion of the game and his likelihood of maintaining his scoring streak was “hot”. But, realistically it is more likely much more than just mere chance that the athlete chanced upon a hot streak. There are many variables within a the many nuanced moments of a basket ball game that one cannot deduce that it was simply about time that the player began to do well after a period of time without a hot streak. Another example could be a student did really well on a test one time after finding a coin before the test was administered. As a result, the coincidence of finding a coin beforehand could lead that student to need to find a coin before any test because they’ve connected the idea of their success on a test with finding a coin. These two examples may not be ultimately worrisome but when the student continues to search for coins it could negatively impact their test performance in the future. As a result, just because two circumstances might happen simultaneously doesn’t mean that their likelihood of increasing your luck/skill are true but rather that humans search for ways that give the, some semblance of control. People do not like letting chance being a determining factor in their daily lives because it isn’t trustworthy. A lucky pen or pair of socks on the other hand, despite being absurd, might allow someone to feel like they are taking control of their lives.

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