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66 MIN READ TIME

Do Superstitious Rituals Work?

Let us stipulate that there is no magic. Sleight-of-hand, deception, illusion, and conjuring, yes, but no “real” magic. On this, most science-minded people agree. But when it comes to superstition, there has always been an additional, less obvious question. Of course, superstitions do not have a magical effect on the world, but do they have psychological benefits? Could superstitions make difficult situations easier to handle? Furthermore, if they have an emotional or psychological benefit, could they also produce better performance in situations where skill is involved? The psychological benefits of superstitions—if they exist—would not be expected to change your luck at the roulette wheel, but perhaps an actor’s pre-performance ritual could reduce anxiety, allowing for better acting.

San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo San doval engages in a lengthy pre-batting ritual. (Source: Wikimedia)

Despite several decades of research on superstition, these questions remained unanswered for many years. Most researchers assumed superstitions were irrational and focused their attentions on discovering why people were superstitious. It was often assumed that there might be some direct psychological benefits of superstition, but these were rarely studied.

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The War on Science, Anti-Intellectualism, and ‘Alternative Ways of Knowing’ in 21st-Century America

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Other Articles in this Issue


Editor’s Letter
When CSICOP and the Skeptical Inquirer were founded, in 1976,
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CONFERENCE REPORT
A Festival of Scientific Skepticism or a Theme Park for Science and Reason? CSICon Las Vegas 2017 Had It All
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INVESTIGATIVE FILES
David Dominé is author of a series of three books
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SKEPTICAL INQUIREE
Q: “I enjoyed your recent investigation into the 2016 Mall
FEATURES
The decades-long academic assault on science has bewildered the American public about the role and function of science, promoted anti-intellectualism, and politically empowered purveyors of supernaturalism and paranormal beliefs
There are several flagrant examples of hype from cancer and cardiac therapy. The drugs Avastin and Opdivo, which have serious problems, have been greatly overhyped. Statins, which are effective in saving lives from heart attacks and stroke, have been subjected to negative hype meant to discourage their use
Here’s a geologist’s critical analysis of false perceptions held by many creationists about the origin of the Grand Canyon and the age of the Earth
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REVIEWS
For most of human history, people have assumed that some
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NEW AND NOTABLE
Listing does not preclude future review
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
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THE LAST LAUGH
I’m not sure I get the point of the story