Why we love and believe in superstitions

Groundhog Club handler Ron Ploucha holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 126th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler\'s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa. Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012. Phil saw his shadow, forecasting six more weeks of winter weather. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Randi Martin, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – If you’re planning on buying a new snow shovel because a groundhog named Phil told you to, or if you carry a rabbits foot in your pocket for good luck, you just might be superstitious.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Holding on to these bits of folk lore gives us a sense of control says Stuart Vyse, a psychology professor at Connecticut College and author of “Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition”

“Superstitions give us a feeling of control when we may not actually have control,” Vyse explains. “They bring about the sense that you’re at least doing something.”

Vyse says we learn superstitions from our parents and although we may doubt their validity – we don’t dare break the chain.

There are hundreds upon thousands of superstitions, and one thing is certain, superstitions do have quite a significant power over us.

From not walking on sidewalk cracks to knocking on wood and crossing your fingers for good luck to finding a four leaf clover. Some buildings avoid putting in a 13th floor, animal rescue groups don’t adopt out black cats around Halloween.

Vyse points to athletes as true believers and looks at their various rituals done before a game like wearing dirty socks, not shaving, spitting into a glove or not talking to the pitcher in the dug out. Professional athletes, according to Vyse, have done everything they can to prepare for the game physically and mentally so the next stage of preparation is the superstition rituals to have the illusion of control.

So excuse me if I throw salt over my left shoulder at dinner, or handle a mirror with extra care. While it may be folk lore – you just never know.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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