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The Allure of Unconventional Beliefs

Author: Katherine Chen

 Editors: Eric Lin and Sophia Chen

Artist: Emily Hu

          Do you believe in manifestations or in carrying charms associated with good fortune? These are all elements of superstitions, and if you do, you’re far from alone. Studies reveal that 70 percent of students rely on lucky charms to improve their academic performance. Embracing such beliefs seems to come naturally to people, as a significant portion of the population has engaged in superstitious practices at some point in their lives. Even if you don’t consider yourself to have jumped on the bandwagon, you likely utter “bless you” when someone sneezes. This phrase originates from an ancient belief among our ancestors that sneezing could potentially result in the devil seizing one’s soul. 

           Many superstitions have their roots in religion. Take, for instance, the superstition surrounding the number 13, linked to the biblical Last Supper where Jesus Christ shared a meal with his 12 disciples before his arrest and crucifixion. The belief that having 13 individuals seated at a table would invite misfortune gradually expanded, leading to a broader belief interpretation of 13 being an unlucky number. This belief has influenced architectural practices, with over 80 percent of tall buildings omitting a 13th floor. Similarly, airports and airplanes often skip the thirteenth aisle or gate, while certain hospitals avoid assigning the number 13 to rooms. 

           Superstitions are commonly defined as the belief that supernatural forces hold sway over unpredictable events. They often manifest in rituals aimed at ensuring positive outcomes or preventing negative ones. These superstitions stem from personal beliefs and experiences, lacking scientific validation, which makes them inherently irrational. Despite acknowledging the lack of empirical truth, many of us still adhere to these superstitions and act upon them. This adherence usually demands little effort and proves simpler than consciously resisting them. 

        One plausible explanation for supernatural beliefs lies in the cognitive functioning of the human mind and its byproducts. It is simply how our mind operates. The human mind is inherently geared towards recognizing patterns and creating structures to make sense of the apparent chaos of the world. We try to make sense of the world around us and explain these “patterns”. One aspect of it involves our inclination to assign agency; we often assume that events occur because of a causative force and that there’s an underlying reason for them. This tendency, coupled with confirmation bias, fuels our superstitions as we tend to actively seek information that aligns with our existing beliefs and desires. When the evidence supports our superstitions, we tend not to question further, while contradictory evidence prompts us to exert considerable effort to disprove the inconsistent information, thus perpetuating our belief. This interplay forms the basis of the formula for cultivating supernatural beliefs. 

           Believing in superstitions can also serve as a coping mechanism for individuals. In times of distress and uncertainty, turning to the supernatural provides a comforting lens through which individuals can view life’s difficulties. Superstitions can help individuals relax and relieve anxiety by providing a perceived sense of control over life’s uncertainties. Superstition is highly prevalent in sports and particularly in competitive settings. Studies show that approximately four out of five professional athletes report engaging in superstitious behavior before their matches. In this context, superstitions are believed to alleviate tension and offer a sense of control over the unpredictable elements inherent in athletic competition. Athletes often attempt to replicate past successful performances by associating various factors, such as their pre-game routines or what color shirt they wore, with their achievements. While these rituals might not directly impact their performance, attributing success to specific actions or items helps alleviate the anxiety associated with recreating past triumphs, despite the truth likely lying in hard work and skill.                   

            At times, superstitions improve task performance in some cases. One study found that engaging in superstitious gestures and using certain words can enhance performance in activities such as golf, likely by boosting self-confidence. Therefore, if you believe certain superstitions–such as wearing a lucky charm–could potentially aid you, there’s a possibility that it might indeed make a positive difference. 



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