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Superstition - 1

  • Date Submitted: 11/20/2012 05:24 AM
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Article:
Superstitions Have Evolutionary Basis
Cynthia Mills, Inside Science News Service
Date: 08 June 2011 Time: 01:16 PM ET
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Our superstitions, such as the belief that finding a four-leaf clover, will bring luck, are based in evolution.
CREDIT: Phyzome, Wikipedia. View full size image |
(ISNS) -- How far will you go to avoid bad luck?  Do you avoid walking under ladders, carry lucky charms, or perhaps instead perform special rituals before important meetings or sporting events?

If you do any of those things, hold your head up high and be proud, because researchers are finding evidence that superstitions may not be as pointless at all. By adopting a belief that you can -- or cannot -- do something to affect a desired outcome, you're among the cadre of beings that learn. By the way, that cadre includes pigeons.  

Superstition is an evolutionary surprise -- it makes no sense for organisms to believe a specific action influences the future when it can't. Yet superstitious behavior can be recognized in many animals, not just humans, and it often persists in the face of evidence against it. Superstitions are not free -- rituals and avoidances cost an animal in terms of energy or lost opportunities. The question becomes how can natural selection create, or simply allow for, such inappropriate behavior?

"From an evolutionary perspective, superstitions seem maladaptive," said Kevin Abbott, biologist at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario and co-author with Thomas Sherratt of a recent study published in Animal Behaviour.  

The study suggests multiple reasons for such anomalies to exist: perhaps superstition is adaptive as a placebo, or for social bonding. Or maybe it really is maladaptive now, but is "the outcome of traits that were adaptive in ancestral environment; sort of like cognitive wisdom teeth," said Abbott.

The first description of superstitious behavior in animals came from psychologist B.F. Skinner in 1948. He put...

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