Episode 30: The psychology of superstitions

This is Episode 30 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.

From carefully avoiding cracks in the pavement to saluting every magpie that you meet, superstitious behaviour is really common. But why do we have superstitions? Where do they come from? And are they helpful or harmful? 

To find out, our presenter Ginny Smith talks to Stuart Vyse, former professor of psychology at Connecticut College and author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition. Ginny also chats to Laramie Taylor, professor of communication at the University of California Davis, who explains how superstition and magical thinking is linked to being a fan of both fiction and sports.

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Episode credits: Presented and produced by Ginny Smith. Script edits by Matthew Warren. Mixing and editing by Jeff Knowler. PsychCrunch theme music by Catherine Loveday and Jeff Knowler. Art work by Tim Grimshaw.

Relevant research and writing from our guests includes:

Magical thinking and fans of fictional texts and Sports Fans and Magical Thinking: How Supernatural Thinking Connects Fans to Teams, both by Laramie Taylor and discussed in the podcast.

Do Superstitious Rituals Work?, an article at Skeptical Inquirer in which Stuart Vyse discusses some of the work mentioned in this episode.

How Superstition Works, an extract from Vyse’s book Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, published at The Atlantic.

Other background reading from Research Digest and The Psychologist:

Thinking in a foreign language, we’re less prone to superstition

Gender differences in superstition – men are influenced by good omens, women by the unlucky

Think you need a lucky mascot? It could be a sign you’re looking at a challenge the wrong way

Rituals bring comfort even for non-believers

Lucky number plates go up in value when times are bad

The everyday magic of superstition

PsychCrunch is sponsored by Routledge Psychology

Routledge Psychology are giving PsychCrunch listeners the chance to discover even more ground-breaking research: free access to 5 articles of your choosing from over 4.5 million at tandfonline.com, plus a 20% discount on books at routledge.com.

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