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Superstitious Behavior Activity

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Valued Contributor

For as long as I can remember, if I left the house and returned seconds later to collect something I'd forgotten, I would sit down and count to ten before leaving the house again! Apparently (according to my mother who was responsible for me doing this) carrying out this behavior prevents bad luck!

 

I engaged in this bizarre superstitious behavior for years. It wasn't until I started studying psychology and began to think more critically that I came to realise what utter nonsense it was. Interestingly though, to this day, forgetting something and returning to the house still triggers the urge to sit down and count to ten and I still engage in the whole sitting and counting thing in the presence of my dear old mum, because I know how worried she will be if I don't.

 

Class Activity

 

I was thinking that arriving to class and opening an umbrella or bringing in a ladder and walking underneath it would be a great way to start a teaching session on the psychology of superstitious behavior! Or how about asking your students if they would be willing to open your umbrella indoors or walk under your ladder.

 

Questions/Issues Worth Exploring

 

1. Why do so many people engage in superstitious behavior?

 

2. How can learning theory help explain superstitious behavior? Here would be a great time to mention B.F. Skinner's classic paper Superstition in The Pigeon which demonstrates how accidental connections between a ritual and favorable consequences can establish and maintain superstitious behavior.

 

3. What helps maintain superstitious behavior? Here you could raise the issues of cognitive demand. In most cases it's just easier to automatically perform a habitual behaviour than to pause and consciously consider the irrational nature of the belief underpinning the behavior.

 

Ingersoll Critical Thinking Quote.png

 

Just For Fun!

 

 

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