Conspiracy theories, superstitions, and our sense of control

If you think these are bad luck, maybe you don't feel like you have control over your circumstances

If you think these are bad luck, maybe you don't feel that you have much control over your circumstances.

According to recently released research, if you feel that events around you are random and out of your control you are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories and superstitions.

The scientists say that people who feel that things are beyond their control can fall prey to “illusory pattern perception,” they see “a coherent and meaningful interrelationship among a set of random or unrelated stimuli.” So, yeah, as the Newsweek reporter writes, they “see things that aren’t there, falling victim to conspiracy theories and developing superstitions.”

It seems that our minds revolt against the idea that circumstances that effect us are entirely beyond our control, even when they really are random, as they sometimes are.  “The less control people have over their lives, the more likely they are to try and regain control through mental gymnastics,” said one of the researchers. “Feelings of control are so important to people that a lack of control is inherently threatening.”

The human mind prefers to believe that mysterious, invisible forces are secretly at work rather than that the world is random. Whitson put it this way: “People see false patterns in all types of data, imagining trends in stock markets, seeing faces in static and detecting conspiracies between acquaintances. This suggests that lacking control leads to a visceral need for order, even imaginary order.” Feel free to apply this to current events, starting with the conspiracy that people imagine in the proposed financial bailout.

Please do check out the article in question; it describes several different experiments which  demonstrate this effect under a variety of conditions.

Quite independently of finding the above article, I stumbled across an interesting video from British mentalist and showman Derren Brown dealing with superstitions and how they form.  Like all of his work, it’s thought-provoking and entertaining television.  Check it out. (The intro is about 80 seconds, if you want to skip it; total length 9:59.)

How many of us would have done better than those folks?  Statistically, probably not many.  I was impressed, however, with David Tennant, who, incidentally, currently plays the title role on the Doctor Who program.  Even with all the others talking about how they’d figured out the pattern he admitted he didn’t think they had; he rise above not only the human predisposition to form superstitions but also our tendency to go along with what everyone else is saying.  Perhaps he has a strong sense of being in control of his life along with a healthy amount of self esteem?

Anyway, if you still find yourself falling under the influence of superstitions, just remember: it’s bad luck to be superstitious!

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2 comments so far

  1. Ben on

    Thanks for posting the cool video. Is there anything that David Tennant can’t do?

    Well, technically I guess he can’t make a crap script like last year’s finale work, but I doubt that De Niro could have pulled that off.

  2. […] to win the lottery twice, maybe The post I had on superstition formationa few days ago might be interesting to consider in light of a recent news story.  The gist of that […]


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