Superstitious beliefs began when our ancestors were conflicted about the forces, whims, and caprices of our natural world. The unexplained occurrences and their repetitions created a need to categorize these sequences by a belief pattern. So when the pioneers of these beliefs created them, they felt satisfied and more in control of conditions, and it made them less insecure about the past, present, or future. Any idea or practice that is physically irrational or and tends to embrace the precepts of fate or belief in the metaphysical can be considered as superstition.
There have been tons of superstitious beliefs passed on from decades, differing from one culture to another. Ironically most superstitious beliefs lean towards the warding off of misfortune. Modern-day intelligence or perhaps the advent of science has made many realize that these ideas are irrational and probably do not make logical sense. Some cultures aren’t willing to let go of them due to an established tradition or the psychological role which the beliefs fulfill as well as the weakness of human nature, which postulates that fear is one of the easiest energy to pass from one person to another.
The mechanism behind the belief of superstition can be explained. Human beings have a dual thinking mode, which is “fast” and “slow.” Fast thinking is more intuitive and quicker in judgment, while slow thinking is rational and tends to challenge intuitive thoughts and understanding when it detects errors. Superstitious beliefs occur even though our thought mechanisms detect errors or realize that the theory is wrong and doesn’t necessarily correct the mistake but instead still act on it.
Common instances of these superstitious beliefs are the significant number “13,” which is believed to represent bad luck. Business owners in some parts of the western world may avoid going about their regular business simply because it is Friday the 13th. Have you wondered why some high rise buildings and hotels lack a 13th floor or a room with number 13th or why airlines and airports skip the 13th aisle?
In China, the color red and number 8 are believed to bring good luck and wealth. Call it old wives’ tales, but some grandmas still think they shouldn’t walk under a ladder, break a mirror, and should remember to throw a pinch of salt over their shoulder if they spill some to avoid bad luck.
A lot of kids are still being asked to leave their fallen tooth under a pillow or other unique places and make a wish in anticipation of a tooth fairy. Many superstitions are, in fact, culturally passed on to the younger generation. Why do we believe in these things, knowing to some extent that it isn’t likely true? Perhaps they do play specific psychological roles in our lives. So the question is, how are superstitious beliefs connected to our mental wellbeing?
It will be difficult to understand why people stand for or against superstitious beliefs without looking into the psychological effects that accompany these self-placating fibs we often tell ourselves.
- Superstitions may relieve anxiety – this happens due to the soothing effect that superstitions could offer. It allows them the pretense of understanding or even being in control of situations that they aren’t clear about. This explains why the notion is mostly used in cases that are accompanied by fear, insecurity, threat, and lack of confidence.
- Superstitions tend to improve performance – when anxiety has been lifted, a person’s possibility of excellent performance may thrive better. Luck enhancing or positive notion has a psychological boost, which in turn improves performance. For instance, in motor skill, golf, anagram games, to name a few, we find that gestures such as “keeping your fingers crossed,” or encouraging words such as “Good luck” “Break a leg” boosted the performance of the participant. These superstitions work in this situation by increasing a participant’s confidence and perceived self-efficacy, which in turn produces a better outcome.
- The cheap cost of superstition appeals better – when people come about broadcasted messages that claim to bring good luck, especially in the form of a text or image on social media, a good number of persons would respond by rebroadcasting these messages for the following reasons:
- The superstitious belief in luck ( the altering of one’s fate by positive energy)
- They are not so sure what to believe
- If one was to ignore the content, it might bring bad luck. (better safe than sorry)
Some may have definite reservations for these At the back of their minds may lie some glaring doubts. Still, it costs merely nothing to abide by it but may (if by some little chance it happens to be exact) cost a higher price to ‘tempt fate’ and fall into the threat of calamities which usually includes terrible luck, loss of a job, lives, fortunes, etc.
Superstition and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Superstitions have the tendencies of crossing over into OCD. Where superstitious behaviors are overly repeated, OCD becomes suspect. There has been a complex link connecting superstition and OCD as people with OCD have strange habits. While these ritualistic behaviors might be odd to ordinary people, for affected people, it brings comfort and reassurance. Examples of this are people setting their alarm clock repeatedly at night for fear of something terrible happening to them and muttering reassuring words over and over.
Another superstition-based OCD is the deep belief that one has to pick the right pair of socks; otherwise, his/her mum will die. The often believed consequences of superstition can be extreme and can resemble some form of mental instability.
Superstition and OCD, although different, share overlapping traits, e.g., ward off anxiety and gain control in situations of uncertainty. OCD ritualistic behaviors as a maladaptive method include excessive hand washing, bathing or grooming, repeated activities, checking practices, mental rituals, and hoarding behaviors. At the same time, superstition itself is an example of one of the compulsions carried out in response to obsessions in people with OCD.
Negative psychological aspects of superstitious beliefs
- Depression/ low self-esteem – in situations where superstitious beliefs begin to interfere with your daily life, one could develop the idea of being under a continuous hex of bad luck and ill fate, and this could lead to low self-esteem.
- Risky decisions based on superstition – superstitious belief are a common phenomenon. In Asian cultures and this creates a negative impact on the social of the people as they become highly indulgent in gambling behaviors and financial risk-taking while believing in good luck, lucky charm, signs and symbols, lucky numbers, clairvoyance, and even wood touching. Thailand, for instance, is a country with a higher number of superstitious people who believe strongly in good and bad luck. It affects Thai consumer behavior and business decisions, for instance, Thai lottery gamblers may spend hours rubbing a tree’s gnarly bark, in hopes to have the appearance of a lucky number on the wood’s swirling grain. Also, packaged products tagged “lucky numbers,” e.g., number 8, often sell out before others. The license plate with the 9999 receives the highest bid when the license is on auction.
So in several ways, superstition can be deeply rooted, cultural, and controlling of the decisions and behavior of a large number of people all over the world. Its effect can be positive or negative as it can also be emotional, social, or psychological.