Sense and Superstition

The New York Times:

Superstitious people do all sorts of puzzling things. But it’s not just the superstitious who knock on wood. From time to time, we all rap our knuckles on a nearby table if we happen to let fate-tempting words slip out. “The cancer is in remission, knock on wood,” we might say.

In fact, it’s so common we often don’t think about it. But it’s worth asking: why do people who do not believe that knocking on wood has an effect on the world often do it anyway? Because it works.

That makes sense intuitively. What’s less intuitive is how a simple physical act, like knocking on wood, can alleviate that concern.

In one study, to be published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, one of us, Jane L. Risen, and her colleagues Yan Zhang and Christine Hosey, induced college students to jinx themselves by asking half of them to say out loud that they would definitely not get into a car accident this winter. Compared with those who did not jinx themselves, these students, when asked about it later, thought it was more likely that they would get into an accident.

Read the whole story: The New York Times

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