Why Superstitions appear reasonable?

Photo by Bekky Bekks on Unsplash

Kelly, an American, travels to India. She is looking forward to exploring the country’s splendours- beaches, hills, monuments. At the airport, Kelly checks in her luggage. She requests the check-in officer to allot a window seat. The officer does that; He hands Kelly her boarding pass. Kelly looks at the boarding pass, and in a flash, her face turns pale. She is like a deer caught in the headlight. The officer is confused because he has allotted a window seat as she had requested. He says, “Ma’am is there a problem?” Kelly answers, “Can I get a different row? It will be fine if I don’t get a window seat but not the present row. The check-in officer was confused. He asks, “What was the problem with the row”? She says, “It’s 13,” and he is like yeah, I see that and hoping she will add something more. She repeats, “It’s 13”, bad luck. The officer says, “Ma’am, if the aeroplane goes down, the entire aeroplane will go down.” Do you really think that people only seated in row 13 will disappear, or the sky will swallow them? Kelly didn’t budge an inch. The airline manager understood what was happening and nudges the officer to do as Kelly wants. The officer hands a new boarding pass, and Kelly is ready to board the aeroplane.

After she’s gone, the manager explains it’s one of the superstitions of people that the number 13 brings bad luck. Superstition, as in when a black cat crosses your path, you should let someone else pass before you do. That person will have bad luck, and you won’t.

Photo by Aswin C Ashok on Unsplash

What happened with Kelly is common behaviour. A person’s mindset is a result of their surroundings. If the person has been fed with certain stories, the person will believe them to be true. But why not question it when we grow up? What makes anyone believe all this?

Fast and slow thinking

To some extent, we realize that these beliefs are absurd, but we still act on them. According to psychologists, humans think fast and slow. The former is intuitive, and the latter takes time, reasons out, and overrides our fast thinking when needed. But with superstitions, though the slow thinking spots the error with our fast thinking, the person ignores it and continues to act on the superstition. One expert said, “People can detect an error, but choose not to correct it, a process I refer to as acquiescence.”

But to view superstitions as only the result of our flawed cognitive thinking will be wrong; it has some benefits.

Gives a sense of control

Humans always fear the unknown. Anxious about things they can’t understand, and they need answers. Superstition is an easy escape for them. It gives a sense of control to people, especially in earlier times when science was absent; our ancestors would ascribe natural phenomena which they didn’t understand to supernatural forces. An article in the international journal of psychology and behavioural sciences states, “Superstitions has its roots in our species” youth when our ancestors could not understand the forces and whims of [the] natural world. The survival of our ancestors was threatened by predation or other natural forces.

Superstitions offer respite to human beings. It gives them a false sense of comfort: that they understand why something happened.

Improve performance

Superstitions relieve anxiety. It boosts confidence. A study showed that participants performed well in activities like golfing, motor dexterity, memory, and anagram games after activating good luck superstitions like keeping fingers crossed or uttering words such as break a leg or “good luck.” Activating a superstition boosts participants’ confidence in mastering upcoming tasks, which in turn improves performance.”

Easy to carry superstitions than to test fate

You go to a restaurant, and at the dinner table, you spill some salt. Now you may choose to toss salt over your left shoulder, which is what you would do if you believed in the superstition. It is said that throwing salt over left shoulder after you have spilt salt wards off evil spirit. People will do it because they don’t want to mess up with the future (unknown). Their life is going smooth why do something that potentially can make their life journey rough.

Doing a superstitious act costs nothing or little compared to risking misfortune hitting the person if they don’t act. “Once you know that a superstition applies, people don’t want to tempt fate by not employing it”, says Vyse.

Why I wrote this article?

I wrote on this topic because this is my 13th article on Medium. Technically this is my 14th article, but I am leaving out one article because that was just venting out my feelings. Triskaidekaphobia is fear of number 13. I don’t know about the number, but the word appears more intimidating than the number.

It’s a double whammy when the date falls on a Friday-paraskevidekatriaphobia. People associating bad luck with date 13 and Friday has its roots in the Last supper. The last supper is the final meal that Jesus shared with his 13 guests before the Friday that Jesus was crucified on.

Is there any truth behind the above reasoning? I cannot say, but I believe as long as the superstition doesn’t cause inconvenience to anyone or doesn’t put anyone in harm’s way, it should be fine to practice the superstition. But watch out for superstition turning into Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or when it starts interfering with your rational thinking in situations when you need to be clinical or professional.

Another way of looking at number 13 is that it may bring good luck to some. I am sure not all 7.9 billion people find number 13 unlucky. What are the chances that people who survived an air crash were seated in row 13? I am sure passengers seated in row 13 have survived crashes.

What do you think about superstitions? Please share your views through comments.

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SURYASH KUMAR

SURYASH KUMAR

I share my perspective through my writing to which you may disagree. You can contact me at coolsuryash@gmail.com