July 18, 2010
Is it possible that superstition is actually good for you? Well, it turns out that superstition may, at least some of the time, have beneficial effects. A paper published in 2008 in Science for example, suggests that lacking control over a situation increases people’s propensity to see illusory patterns — the implication being that the latter (a typical component of superstition) ameliorates stress when we feel that things are out of hand. Also, a recent study published in Psychological Science shows that superstition improves people’s performance on certain tasks, presumably by making them more self-confident than they would be otherwise. Add to this a recent article in Scientific American to the effect that people with Asperger’s syndrome are less likely to project agency onto life’s events (and hence tend to be less superstitious), and suddenly the skeptic might not feel so cocky about being skeptical.
Of course we’re not advocating in favor of superstition on the sole ground that it may be psychologically helpful. Still, what happens when something that we devote so much time fighting against turns out not to be entirely bad after all?