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This section contains articles on phenomena or versions that may be interesting or useful to researchers of the unexplained facts in one way or another.

Superstitious behavior

Added Sun, 30/08/2020
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Superstition is a superstition based on a belief in some otherworldly force. The word is derived from the roots "sue" ("in vain", "without awareness of the reasons") and "faith" and means literally "vain belief". As a rule, superstition contains the assumption (often unconsciously) that it is possible to find protection from otherworldly forces or reach a compromise acceptable to a person with them.

Differences between beliefs and superstitions

The article describes the origin of beliefs and superstitions, as well as reveals their main differences.

Some of the superstitions found in the modern world have a logical basis. They are often placed in the child's mind by parents and serve as a warning. Such superstitions use elements of the unknown and mystical to reinforce the inevitability of consequences. For example, the well-known superstition that you can not eat with a knife-otherwise "you will be evil" (or" trouble will happen") is based on the desire to protect the child, who in this way can easily get hurt, from domestic injuries.

Some of the superstitions have come down to our days, having lost their original logic, which is why they now look absurd. For example, many people know that " sprinkle salt - to quarrel." Previously, table salt was almost worth its weight in gold, so if someone spilled it, it could really cause a scandal. These days, however, salt is cheap in the store, and the reason for the superstition is no longer so obvious.

Many superstitions that we inherited from our ancestors or developed independently, scientists explain operant conditioning. This term refers to the effect of the consequences of behavior on the behavior itself, and the consequences are understood as changes in the environment (changes in the stimulus) that occur immediately after the behavior and affect the frequency of occurrence of this behavior in the future.

Interestingly, " operant conditioning "is sometimes referred to as" instrumental learning", which was first thoroughly studied by Edward Thorndike. He studied the behavior of cats that had to get out of the box. The cat could get out of the box by performing a simple action – such as pulling a cord or pressing a pole. The first time, it took the cat a long time to get out of there. With repeated experiments, ineffective reactions occurred less often, and successful ones occurred more often, so the cats got out of the box faster and faster. Thorndike summarized this data in his " law of effect "(eng. "Law of effect") , which States that behavior that brings pleasure tends to repeat itself, and behavior that leads to unpleasant consequences is less likely to repeat itself.

Based on Thorndyke's experiments in the early twentieth century, Burres Frederick Skinner conducted a number of his experiments, after which the term "superstitious behavior"was introduced.

Superstitious behavior is a behavior that occurs and is maintained as a result of random reinforcement that does not actually agree with it.

According to Skinner, superstitious behavior is based on the" dislike " of the human mind for accidents, its task to resolve contradictions and act on the basis of certain expectations. Randomness destroys these expectations because it is unpredictable. However, our consciousness still strives to find a deterministic explanation for random events, and that is why we tend to attribute the status of the natural to the random. This is an important principle of consciousness: random events are perceived by it as natural.

This is how the 2002 Oxford dictionary of psychology describes superstitious behavior, based on Skinner's experiments with pigeons:

The easiest way to demonstrate this behavior is to put an organism, such as a pigeon, in a Skinner box and give reinforcements in a variable mode, regardless of the animal's behavior.

When the first reinforcements arrive, the pigeon will do something, perhaps raise one of its wings. Thus, this reaction will be reinforced and will be observed more often. Therefore, it will increase the probability that it will occur with the next reinforcement, which, of course, will further strengthen this reaction.

After a while, the pigeon will display a well-practiced superstitious wing-raising reaction, a reaction that actually has no direct connection to the received reinforcement.

The main purpose of this example is to show that the concept of randomness between reaction and reinforcement is in the mind of the observer, and that a true assessment of cause and effect is not necessary for well – practiced behavior.

Alfred Bruner and Samuel Revusky in the 60-ies of the last century conducted a similar experiment on the four teenagers. The scientists told them that there are four keys with numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4, and if you press the keys in the correct sequence, a sound will be heard. In reality, the sound appeared 10 seconds after pressing the 3 key, meaning that the real reinforcement was only associated with pressing a certain key. But none of the subjects noticed this, because they expected the sound to be associated with a certain sequence of keystrokes.

As a result of the experience, all the teenagers demonstrated very complex patterns of behavior. They, like Skinner's pigeons, formed a superstitious behavior. The teenagers believed that a certain sequence of their actions was related to reinforcement, although in fact there was no real connection between these events.

The researchers concluded that the most revealing experiments are those in which the subjects are not told that it is necessary to create a certain pattern to get reinforcement. The most objective may be studies in which subjects have no prior assumptions about what to do to get reinforcement at all, and as a result, they themselves must develop certain patterns-or not develop them.

Researchers from the University of Kansas point out three reasons why people are superstitious:

  • because they want to control (or at least think they do) situations with a high degree of uncertainty;
  • to reduce the feeling of helplessness and powerlessness;
  • because sometimes it is easier to believe in omens than to learn to resist difficulties.

In human society, "superstitious" rituals involve verbal formulas and are transmitted as part of culture, so they differ slightly from the simple effect of operant reinforcement, although they probably originate from the same process.

It's worth noting that in most cases, superstitions are harmless, and often even help people get their anxiety levels under control. However, you need to be careful with them, because in some situations, the belief in superstition crosses adequate boundaries and can be dangerous. This can be expressed depending on amulets or certain rituals "for good luck", the inability to perform which causes panic, or in the use of these rituals instead of real actions (preparing for an exam, seeking medical help, etc.). the Cause of harm from superstition may also be an unwillingness to act and take your life under control, if the use of the ritual is impossible, referring to the obviously negative result of any attempts.


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