What are the benefits of superstition
The magic behind superstition
Have you ever instinctively told someone who was sneezing around you, bless you? Or did you notice your heart skip a beat when someone told you your flight was scheduled for the 13th?
Think about these cases for a moment, and you will quickly conclude that telling someone who is sneezing "bless you" or worrying about your flight on the 13th day of the month makes no sense takes place.
Still, many people continue to do both. Superstitions like this are more common than we might think, and while we may not realize it, most of us tend to indulge in superstitious practices in some areas of our lives.
A superstition is the belief that two apparently unrelated events have a causal relationship between them. For example, many people believe that when a black cat crosses your path is a harbinger of bad luck.
On the surface, there doesn't seem to be a rational connection: why would the natural movement of an arbitrarily colored animal harm you? Although you know about this fallacy, you will still find yourself avoiding a black cat if one happens to show up on your path.
There is more chaos in this world than we can explain or deal with. In the face of this uncertainty and unpredictability, we humans seek ways to control the endless list of factors that can affect our lives.
For this reason, many years ago, when someone noticed that a black cat was crossing someone else's path and that person was then subjected to an inexplicable tragedy and great losses in life, the conclusion was drawn that black cats crossing your path, are definitely something that you should avoid doing. Since then, this superstition has been passed down through the channels of culture and religion and is still something that many people firmly believe in.
This begs an important question: we live in the age of science and reason. We know more about the natural laws of the world and why things like natural disasters happen, and we've found out that they definitely don't happen because your friend Sam came out from under a ladder.
Jane Risen, a member of the American Psychological Association and professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Illinois booth, has dared some answers on this point. She says we act on our superstitious beliefs despite being aware of their irrationality through a process she calls consent.
Consent is when part of our brain tells us that something we believe in or do has no rationale, and yet we choose to ignore that voice and continue to act out our superstitious beliefs.
However, this involves more than just flaws in our knowledge. Another reason we choose superstitious beliefs is that, in our eyes, the cost of acting on the belief is small compared to the potential cost of not acting on that belief, especially when the superstition turns out to be (unexpectedly) as turns out to be true.
The thing is, you'd rather not take the chance of years of bad luck if you just had to avoid getting out from under a ladder or turning away when you see a black cat on your way. If there was such a simple alternative, you'd rather not try to tempt fate at all.
As it turned out, superstitions could not have survived centuries if there had been no benefit in believing in them and acting on them.
One of the great benefits of superstition is that it reduces anxiety in the face of unpredictability. By giving us a (false) explanation for the occurrence of otherwise inexplicable and tragic events, they help us regain a sense of control and agency and reduce our fear of our future and security.
They make us believe that we can prevent bad events from happening in our life by following simple rituals and taking certain measures. Although these beliefs were unfounded, they made it much easier for our ancestors to survive.
Do you remember when Harry (in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) tricked Ron into believing that he had had a lucky potion and that he was lucky by his side? Ron, simply because he believed luck was on his side, became the star of their Quidditch match.
This is the magic behind superstitious beliefs. People who wear lucky charms or believe in lucky possessions aren't really luckier - their belief increases their self-confidence and composure. This psychological benefit is enough to give them a real edge in any activity and improve their performance.
Many people believe that one has to be an irrational and poor thinker to believe in and act on superstitions. However, as you have seen, this comes to mind easily and can actually be beneficial and performance enhancing in many situations.
So keep in mind that having to take a cold shower, recite a prayer, or wear a certain color before your next interview, exam, or sporting event is perfectly fine. Who knows, it could be why you end up doing your best!
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