Friday the 13th” in the Western context, or sneezing before leaving the house in the Indian context, we are surrounded by a huge variety of superstitions. According to Wikipedia “Superstition is any belief or practice which is irrational that is, it arises from ignorance, a misunderstanding of science or causality, a positive belief in fate or magic, or fear of that which is unknown.”
These are some of the reasons due to which people may hold irrational beliefs:
- The superstitions which have been developed have been prevalent since ancient times much before the development of modern sciences. Unfortunately, even science with all the modern developments has not found any justification towards such superstitions. So they are passed on from generation to generation.
- Such beliefs are formed because of lack of explanation about the causal factor which led to a certain event. Let's explicate the superstition of sneezing. If a car passes by and splashes water all over your clothes. Your parents or grandparents will blame it on the sneeze you had before you left the house.
Those were negative superstitions. Now I will talk about the belief of keeping lucky charms with us. We usually think of keeping lucky charms in terms of amulets or a small idol of God along with us or carrying a lucky pen or pencil during our exams. Even sportspersons like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods wore a particular clothing for their important matches.
How Positive are these Superstitious Beliefs?
Positive superstitions include keeping a lucky charm with themselves for performing a certain task. A research was published in Psychological Science which was conducted by Damisch et.al (2010) wherein he noticed whether crossing one’s finger will increase in motor or mental performance of the child.
In one experiment participants (28 participants) who were told that the ball they were about to throw was ‘lucky’, showed an increase in the performance of the individual in terms of throwing the ball at a longer distance. In two experiments in which one experiment was of memory testing and other was based on putting the blocks in the right order. Again it was seen that those participants who had their lucky charm along with them showed better task performance than those who did not have their lucky charms.
This explains as to how the lucky charms can help towards raising one’s confidence level and self-efficacy levels which help them towards accomplishing their goals and striving hard to achieve them.
Certain rituals followed before any event also act as a motivator towards keeping calm and performing well. For example, we all must have seen Indian cricketer Mithali Raj reading a book before she went to bat. This, she claimed helped her relax her mind as she went to play. Such rituals turn out to be important as having a relaxed mind will help us focus more on the task at hand and strategies during the game.
Superstitions are generally known for this factor which is over-dependence or negative-dependence. It is because in ancient time's people hardly had any knowledge about the reasoning behind certain phenomenon. Example- In India, we have this belief of not cutting our nails at night. This might have an evolutionary basis. During ancient times, there was hardly any electricity in the houses due to which there was nil amount of visibility. Now after several years, it has evolved into a superstition that cutting nails at night leads to a disaster.
A prominent example can be as to how a black cat crossing a street is treated as something ominous. One cannot cross the area on which the black act has put its feet on. If a person urgently needs to go to the loo and the washroom is a few steps ahead. But no, he cannot go from there as a black cat had crossed that area. So now either the person needs to find another washroom or he should take the longer route towards the place in such a way he does not cross the area where the black cat had crossed. Isn’t it inadequate? The person needs to hold because a black cat walked through there. In fact, it does not even know how ominous its path is.
On a Tuesday you notice that your nails have grown quite a bit. You have a PT period tomorrow in school and that teacher is very particular towards such things. You take a nail-cutter and are about to cut your nails until your mother comes and reminds you that it is ominous to cut your nails on this day of the week. Even cutting nails on a particular day can become a turning point in your future.
This leads us to a conclusion that superstitions which encourage us to do well or work hard are not bad but such superstitions which hamper our daily lives and do not have any clear reason either are not worthy to be followed.
Also, the present day society will begin to think ill of you as they are more educated and aware of these things.