Superstitions: Facts Or Fiction?

By Josmat Jerry

While maturing, I believed by the power of my instincts that when I hit my right foot against the ground or stone to say, goodies await me where I am headed while reverse is the case when my left foot appears to be the victim. This I’ve known overtime and have strongly believed until someone told me these beliefs are superstitious and have no connection with reality. Since then, bundle of questions has swept across my mind; Are superstitions real or not? Why did I strongly believe in it? And, why has it been working for me?

Superstitions is a belief in supernatural causality that can be linked to a fear of the unknown. When one event causes another without any natural process linking the two events, it is definitely a superstition. In this way, individual beliefs and experiences drive superstitions, which explains while they are generally irrational and often defy current scientific wisdom. Psychologists have shown that superstitions drives the assumption that a connection exist between co-occurring, non-related events. For many people, engaging with superstitious behaviors provides a sense of control and reduces anxiety – which is why levels of superstition increase at times of stress and angst.

Many of us grew up hearing about these superstitions which grew out of fear of the unknown. There are more than a hundred superstitions we heard from friends and family while growing up, these include; itchy palms which serves as a sign of good luck, letting someone cross over your legs and giving birth to a child with one arm or leg, spitting on the floor and someone step on it which results to sore throat, whistling at night which is believed to attract evil spirits and snakes, eating in the dark which could give room to the dead to eat with you and that could lead to death or grave ailments, also, when your food falls to ground, you should not pick it as the devil has eaten it and so on.

Surprisingly, superstitions have been shown to help promote a positive mental attitude. Although they can lead to irrational decisions such as trusting in the merits of good luck and destiny rather than sound decision making. Carrying charms, wearing certain clothes, visiting places associated with good fortune, preferring specific colours and using particular number are all elements of superstition. Although these behaviors and actions are ignorable for some people, they can often affect choices made in the real world for others, they can also give rise to the notion that objects and places are cursed. Numbers themselves can also often be associated with curses e.g. the figure 666 and 419.

Superstition is also highly prevalent within sport – especially in highly competitive situations. Within sport, superstitions have been shown to reduce tension and provide a sense of control over unpredictable, chance factors. Superstitious practices tend to vary across sports, but there are similarities. Within football, gymnastics and athletics, e.g. competitors reported praying for success, checking appearance in mirror and dressing well to feel better prepared. Players and athletes also engage with personalized actions and behaviors – such as wearing of lucky clothes, kit and charms.

Famous sports people often display superstitious behaviors. Michael Jordan concealed his lucky North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls team kit. Rafael Nadal has an array of rituals that he perform each time he plays. These include the manner in which he places his water bottles and taking freezing cold showers. Nadal believes these rituals help him focus, flow and perform well. Cristiano Ronaldo with the unique way he celebrates his goals. Paul Pogba with his red wristband and lot more.

What all these shows is that superstitions can provide reassurance and can help to reduce anxiety in some people. But while this may well be true, it is said that actions associated with superstitions can also become self-reinforcing – in that the behavior develops into a habit and failure to perform the ritual can actually result in anxiety.

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