Step on a crack break your mother’s back, the number 13, the number 17, breaking a mirror, cross paths with a black cat. These are some of the most common superstitions among people in the world. As a child, you would hear your mother tell you not to walk under a ladder, or when you say something terrible that it might happen, so you better knock on wood. Children grew up hearing these superstitions never aware of where they came from or consciously thinking about doing it before they did. Avoiding the number 13, or being scared that something on Friday the 13th would happen simply became a part of life. Some people went along with it not giving it too much thought, but others took it to an extreme. Superstitions were never seen as something that could inflict harm onto someone’s life, but if we take a closer look we realize superstition controls your day to day life and becomes similar to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Superstitious behavior has become common amongst those who have uncertainties about life and who need something to comfort them in predicting a good outcome. People like to put a sense of control on things that are too chaotic or too big for them to control. Superstitious behavior has become linked with OCD, giving people a sense of external control. ‘People like to have the idea that they can make sense of the world and predict what will happen to them,’ notes social psychologist Carey Morewedge, an associate professor of marketing at Boston University.” (2015) Superstitions serve as external explanations for seemingly causal events’ or as a possible way to reduce the odds that something bad will happen.” Although the number of people who believe in
superstitions is not great, the 2014 Harris Interactive/Statista survey found that 25% of people in just the United States say that they are somewhat or very superstitious. Concluding that ¼ of Americans are affected by superstitions and in jeopardy of them controlling their lives or getting to the point of severe OCD. People who reach these conditions risk isolation and not experiencing the normal lives that people live around them. They withdraw themselves from the life they had before and lose experiences that would benefit their life for the better.
The majority of people who are extreme when it comes to superstitions aren’t familiar with how the superstition came about. The most common superstition of the number 13 came from an association with the biblical last supper, where Jesus Christ dinned with his 12 disciples just before being arrested and crucified. This gave the idea that having 13 people at a table was bad luck then expanding to 13 being an unlucky number. Many others came from religious beliefs, others came from cultural beliefs like knocking on wood. The ancient Indo Europeans believed that trees were home to various spirits and that touching a tree would invoke the protection of the spirit within. People often can see that superstitions are just an ‘old wives’ tale’ or legends and stories from centuries ago. These superstitions might not make sense, but the intuitive appeal to be able to have control over what happens is too great that it’s hard for them to shake them.
Superstitious thinking crosses over into a dangerous lifestyle when the superstition becomes greater than taking care of the person’s health. When a person needs surgery, but they think a certain day, time is bad, or that something will happen to them if they get the surgery due to some superstition, the person is putting themselves in harm’s way. The reason why people become so obsessed with superstitions is due to confirmation bias. Once something good happens, superstitions are often maintained by confirmation bias where the person tends to confirm what they already believe and block out anything that contradicts that. Similarly to people who suffer from OCD they cannot go upon their day without acting upon the superstition to be reinforced that nothing bad will happen. The most common example of this is during sports games. You’re watching the civil war game and eating hot wings, and the Beavers win for the first time in years. You then come to believe in the luck of power that hot wings have and overlook all the other times you’ve eaten hot wings. This example, however, is much simpler than someone who would take something of luck to the extreme.
Most people who do have superstitions do not take it to the extent of where it becomes like OCD and a risk to their life. In some cases superstitions have been said to be beneficial for people with anxiety who feel that they can’t control things because it gives them some reassurance and self-control. They relieve anxiety about the unknown and gives people a sense of control over their lives. When the absence of control of a significant result creates anxiety, it can be maintained by the emotional benefit of superstitions even if people on a rational level know that there is no magic. (2016) “Superstitions have ‘evolved’ to produce ‘a false sense of having control over outer conditions,’ and reduce anxiety. This is also why superstitions are ‘prevalent in conditions of absence of confidence, insecurity, fear, and threat.’ (2018)
Superstitious beliefs or behaviors that come from fear, uncertainty, and unfamiliar events help people overcome such situations. However when taken to a greater extent people become obsessed with these superstitions that actually cause then to isolate themselves from society and set them back in life. Superstitions became a ‘comfort’ to people who struggle with anxiety of not being able to control future events or fear of harmful things occurring. What someone can’t see who becomes obsessed with superstitions is that is starts to control their lives and inflicts an unhealthy life. These beliefs people thought were just cultural tales have become more dangerous to humanity than we would have ever expected.