WASHINGTON – Do you avoid black cats and hide on Friday the 13th? Or maybe you knock on wood and carry a rabbit’s foot.
If you answered yes, then you are superstitious. But why?
According to Stuart Vyse, professor of psychology at Connecticut College and author of “Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition,” it’s because we live in an uncertain world.
“It’s called the illusion of control,” Vyse says.
“People believe that they have control in situations where, in fact, it’s completely random.”
Vyse says most superstitions are learned from others, since they are passed down from generation to generation.
“If you have been raised in a family where there were superstitions, they will stick with you,” he says.
Some believe that clutching that rabbits foot or avoiding sidewalk cracks will help them get what they want or get them through a certain task. Vyse admits that these practices do have a psychological effect.
For those athletes who wear dirty winning socks, there is some evidence that engaging in superstitious behavior can enhance performance.
However, as a scientist, Vyse says he prefers not to believe in magical things.
“I stand firmly for reason over unreason. Most superstitions are low-cost, low- energy and they provide psychological benefits for the person, so typically (they) can’t hurt.”