General Question

knitfroggy's avatar

Why do people have superstitions?

Asked by knitfroggy (8959points) April 19th, 2009

I wonder where they come from or why they started. I throw salt over my left shoulder if I spill any and if a black cat crosses my path I turn my hat around three times. If I don’t have a hat on (usually I don’t) I just make a circle around my head like I did have one. I don’t even know why I do these things, it’s a habit, I suppose. But I honestly worry about what would happen if I didn’t do the “ritual”. Some people think I’m nuts.

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9 Answers

asmonet's avatar

It’s a survival mechanism.
They should shoo now.

From the Wiki:
“From a simpler perspective, natural selection will tend to reinforce a tendency to generate weak associations. If there is a strong survival advantage to making correct associations, then this will outweigh the negatives of making many incorrect, “superstitious” associations.”

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

It provides people with the illusion that they have some control over the random events of the world.

ninjacolin's avatar

that’s like asking why people have opinions.

knitfroggy's avatar

@ninjacolin not sure I see the connection…or maybe I’ve misunderstood…

ninjacolin's avatar

it is just your opinion that you ought to throw salt over your shoulder if you spill salt.

knitfroggy's avatar

@ninjacolin I guess that is another way to look at it. It’s just a habit.

ninjacolin's avatar

yea, habits are important too. habits defy opinions even. :(
on that note, if you want to you can stop them with practice.

lol, that is to say.. if it is your opinion that you should stop these habits.. ;)

mattbrowne's avatar

Maybe there was a evolutionary benefit related to the placebo effect. Today? Maybe skepticism about enlightenment and science in general.

Strauss's avatar

I heard this story several years ago. I’m not sure how true the account is, but it might add some understanding to superstition.

It seems a certain research facility had a population of chimpanzees under study. The researchers hung a bunch of bananas from a string just above the reach of the chimps. A short distance away from the bananas there was a chair. It didn’t take the chimps long to figure out the chair could be moved and used to reach the bananas. When one individual achieved this, and a banana was seized, then all of the chimps in the enclosure were sprayed down with water. This happened several times until the chimps would prevent any individual from climbing the chair.

Occasionally, during the study, a chimp was rotated out of the population, and replaced with another individual. Invariably, the new chimp would see the bananas (which were replaced regularly with a fresh bunch) and try to climb the chair. The other chimps would prevent the new individual from climbing the chair. Eventually the time came that there were none of the original individuals in the population, and there had been no spray for some time. Even though they did not know they would be sprayed, they knew they should prevent any others from climbing on the chair.

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