Description: As I write this, the Chicago Cubs are one loss away from not winning the 2016 World Series of baseball. The Cubs are in the final for the first time since 1945 and they have not won the World Series since 1908. Do you think some Chicago fans are doing some things that might be described as superstitious in order to either assist their team in winning or to stave off the possibility of them, yet again, losing? The question raised in the article linked below is: why is it that people who are otherwise intelligent and rational still do things that reflect superstitious beliefs. Why is it that people do such things as wearing and not washing a lucky jersey, carrying a lucky key fob, or rabbit’s foot or any of the many many things sport fans do to assist their team’s performance on the field in ways that rationally could not possibly have any impact on the performance of professional athletes? After you have generated a few of your own hypotheses as to why this might be the case read to the article linked below.
Source: Why even smart people fall for superstitions, Brian Resnick, Vox.
Date: October 30, 2016
Photo Credit: iDraw/Shutterstock
While it is easy to dismiss superstitious beliefs reflections of lower levels of intellectual functioning, it may well be that carrying occasional superstitious thoughts along with may simply be a part of what it means to be human and to think like a human. Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman suggests one possible explanation when he points out that we seem to operate using two systems of thinking. The first one can be described as intuitive in nature as it involves quick gut reactions to the world and is as a consequence driven by pre-reflective assumptions and stereotypes. Our belief that our favourite team will win if we are wearing their jersey may initially be supported by having worn the jersey when they did in fact win. System one thinking sees this connection and then goes on to argue that we shouldn’t tempt fate by, for example, not wearing the jersey the next time the team plays. System one thinking thrives on what Kahneman calls confirmation bias in which we seem to be much more likely to notice data that supports our superstitions or hypotheses than data that does not. In other words we are more likely to notice when our team wins when we are wearing the jersey than those instances where they win when we are not wearing the jersey. System two thinking, which takes time, is more rational and more grounded in objective facts. System two will tell us that a jersey worn by an individual fan could not possibly have any rational connection to the performance of a team of professional athletes. Studies by social psychological researchers have suggested we hold on to superstitions partly because we simply wish they were true. The costs of indulging in superstitions are usually rather low, after all, what harm could there be in wearing the same jersey for every game and even in leaving it unwashed between games? In addition it is much harder to think about counter superstitious outcomes. After all, the Chicago Cubs have only been to the World Series twice in the last hundred and eight years and have won in only one of those two appearances. Given that, how can they possibly win this time unless all of their fans are wearing the right hats, shirts, underwear, and socks?
Questions for Discussion:
- Describe the differences between system one and system two thinking as described by Danny Kahneman.
- How do the differences between system one and system two thinking apply to the question of why otherwise a smart people engage in superstitious thoughts and actions?
- Can you think of any ways in which we might protect ourselves from engaging in nonproductive, superstitious, thoughts and behaviours?
References (Read Further):
King, L. A., Burton, C. M., Hicks, J. A., & Drigotas, S. M. (2007). Ghosts, UFOs, and magic: positive affect and the experiential system. Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(5), 905. http://personalitylab.tamu.edu/files/downloads/2011/03/KingetalJPSP2007.pdf
Risen, J. L. (2015). Believing what we do not believe: Acquiescence to superstitious beliefs and other powerful intuitions. Psychological Review, 123,(2), 182-207. http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/jane.risen/research/Acquiescence_Psych_Review.pdf
Daniel Kahneman. (2013).Thinking Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.