The Human Superstition
This week in my psychology class, we are learning about positive and negative reinforcement. In a study, a group of pigeons were placed in a cage for a period of time every day. In that time, they were given more food every 15 seconds. However, they came to believe that the only way that they would get food was by doing some kind of action. One pigeon had bobbed his head to the left and right immediately before he was fed the first time, so he began to believe that the only way he would get fed was by doing that action. And he proceeded to perform that action in the 15 second increment between servings of food. The pigeons developed a superstition that the only way they would receive something good was by doing something that had “helped” them receive that object in the first time.
Humans are the same way. We have come to believe that things like walking under a ladder or breaking a mirror are bad luck. Of course, somebody in the past must have walked under a ladder and had some horrible experience happen to them right after. The word was spread that no one should walk under ladders! Of course, this subject in psychology got me curious and I wanted to find out why certain things are considered good or bad luck.
In the Middle Ages, black cats were associated with witches. As many Christians thought that Pagans were witches, they told everybody about the bad luck that a black cat crossing your path might bring. Because of this religious war so many years ago, people are still afraid of black cats.
When a ladder is propped against the side of a building, a produces a triangle, which represents the Holy Trinity. When someone walks under the ladder, they are believed to be breaking the triangle and therefore attracting the devil.
As for the broken mirror theory, a soul is said to dwell inside every mirror. When a mirror is broken, it is said that the soul is also damaged. The soul would then hand the breaker of this mirror “a spoonful of their own medicine,” doing anything bad to the person that had been done to them. But why seven years of bad luck? The myth is that the body is renewed after seven years, removing the evils of the soul from the person.
It’s funny to think of how one person centuries ago could have decided that these objects wreak so much havoc upon us. It is also quite humorous to think of how most people, myself included, have completely given in to these ideas. We never asked questions, just tried to avoid the “bad luck” we could receive by doing these things.