• Welcome to Tamil Brahmins forums.

    You are currently viewing our boards as a guest which gives you limited access to view most discussions and access our other features. By joining our Free Brahmin Community you will have access to post topics, communicate privately with other members (PM), respond to polls, upload content and access many other special features. Registration is fast, simple and absolutely free so please, join our community today!

    If you have any problems with the registration process or your account login, please contact contact us.

Superstitious learning: Can 'lucky' rituals bring success?


Active member
We love to mimic the routines and rituals of the rich and famous – but they may be no more insightful than random behaviors.

Where would the self-help and business media be without the secret habits of highly successful people? Almost every week there’s a new article outlining a high-flying individual’s behaviors – with the implied promise that using the same techniques could deliver us fame and fortune, too.

Some of their advice is relatively common sense: you’ll often hear how top CEOs like Elon Musk begin work early, skip breakfast and divide their time into small, manageable tasks. Arianna Huffington, the CEO of Thrive Global, prioritizes sleep in the name of productivity, including a bedtime ritual in which she turns off all mobile devices and “escorts them out of [her] bedroom”.

Other inspirational figures are more idiosyncratic in their habits. Bill Gates, for example, would reportedly rock backwards and forwards in his chair while brainstorming – a bodily means of focusing the mind that apparently spread across the Microsoft boardroom. Gates was also very particular in his choice of notebook: it had to be a yellow legal pad. Further back in history, Charles Dickens carried around a compass so he could sleep facing north, something he believed would contribute to more productive writing, while Beethoven counted exactly 60 coffee beans for each cup, which he used to power his composing.

Why do successful people follow such eccentrically specific habits? And why are we so keen to read about them and mimic them in our own lives?

The answer lies in a powerful psychological process called ‘superstitious learning’. The brain is constantly looking for associations between two events. While it is mostly correct, it sometimes mistakes coincidence for causality – leading us to attribute success to something as arbitrary as the colour of our notebook or the number of beans in our brew, rather than our own talent or hard work. And when we hear of other’s triumphs, we often end up copying their habits, too, including the arbitrary rituals that they had acquired through superstitious learning – a phenomenon known as ‘over-imitation’.

This is not to say the resulting habits are completely devoid of benefits. By giving us a sense of self-determination, the adoption of rituals – including the completely random behaviors that we have learnt ourselves or borrowed from those we admire – can help us to overcome anxiety and may even bring about a noticeable boost in performance.

The scientific study of superstitious learning began in the late 1940s, with an influential paper by the American psychologist BF Skinner. It seems that the brain is constantly looking for associations among our behavior, our environment and the rewards that we seek – and quite often, it can come to the wrong conclusions.

“Superstition is a kind of maladaptive behavior that arises from what is normally a very good thing – the ability of the brain to predict,” says Elena Daprati, a neuroscientist at the University of Rome Tor Vergata.

Daprati’s own research has showed further evidence for this theory. In a 2019 paper, her team showed that individual differences in implicit learning – the brain’s ability to non-consciously pick up patterns – can explain why some people are more likely to form superstitious habits than others.

In everyday life, this associative learning might lead us to settle on a ‘lucky’ pen that seems to deliver particularly good grades in exams, or a certain suit that we feel guarantees a good job interview. Creative tasks are especially rife with uncertainty – which may explain why thinkers like Gates, Beethoven and Dickens adopted such specific behaviors to get their thoughts flowing. we have a tendency to “over-imitate” when we learn from others, copying every action they perform, even if there is no obvious logical reason for a particular deed. Often, we simply don’t even question the reason for doing something – we just assume that it must have a purpose.

This article was published in India, but it is applicable worldwide.​

What Effects Could Superstition Have on Our Psychological Well-Being?​

India has a rich history and culture which is one of the many things that makes us proud of our country. But another undeniable fact is that it is also a land of many superstitions. ‘If a cat crosses your path it would bring bad luck, ‘keeping a knife under one’s pillow can prevent bad dreams’, and ‘sweeping the house in the evening drives away prosperity’. These are some of the many superstitions that most Indians believe in. Although these superstitions aren’t necessarily harmful to most people, there have been many incidents in which someone’s extreme superstitious belief led to a loss of lives. These kinds of cases raise questions — what is the limit to being superstitious? Are they bad for us? In this article, we will try to explore the reasons why we form so many superstitions and what effects they could be having on our everyday psychology and mental health.

What are superstitions?

Superstitions can be defined as false beliefs and ideas that do not have a rational base. people usually form superstitions out of fear of the unknown. Superstitions mostly have a cultural or traditional connection and since ancient times people have been using superstitions as a means to feel a sense of understanding and control over life. Superstition is a very common part of Indian culture. Due to the rich diversity of culture in our country, superstitions exist in the everyday life of most individuals. We put lemon and chilies on our doors to safeguard our homes and shops from the evil eye. We also do not eat or bathe during solar and moon eclipses. While these superstitious beliefs are meant to keep us safe and healthy, many dangerous superstitious rituals cause serious physical danger and sometimes cause loss of death. The Indian constitution gives its people full religious freedom, but because the threats of practicing dangerous superstitious rituals were visible, the 42nd amendment of fundamental duties was included in the constitution that expects every Indian citizen to have a spirit of inquiry and a scientific temperament. The Indian government continuously tries to fight the superstition that causes our society serious damage. In 2013, Maharashtra became the first state to pass a law against superstition when ‘The Maharashtra prevention and eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman, Evil, and Aghori practices and Black Magic Act was passed. Since then, many legislations against superstitious rituals have been passed in different states around the country.

Where do superstitions come from?

But not all rituals or beliefs can be considered superstitions. The main difference between a general belief and a superstitious belief is the magical effect we believe it to have. There can be different types of superstitions religious, social, and cultural. Often people believe in superstitions despite knowing somewhere in their mind that it is not practically possible. When Jane Risen, a member of the American Psychological Society, tried to study the reason behind this, he used the dual process model of cognition to explain this. He stated that humans can do both, fast and slow thinking. The fast way of thinking normally involves intuitive or hasty decision making and the slow thinking involves decisions that are made calmly and after rational thinking. He said that it is possible that people follow a belief, realize that it is faulty and senseless, but still choose to not act on it. Then they keep on following it because doing so relieves their anxiety about the unknown.


Another reason why people prefer performing superstitious rituals is that they feel doing so is a very small price they can pay for a good outcome than facing the possible negative outcome in the event of not performing those rituals. This could be the reason why rituals like saying “bless you” when someone sneezes or touching wood when one comment on something good about another person, is still so prevalent even in youngsters.

Superstitions have existed in our society for a very long time. They are deeply rooted in our traditions and culture. It is neither required nor possible that everyone completely stops believing in all superstitions because if nothing, they at least provide psychological and emotional benefits to some people. Therefore, the best we can do is that we are cautious of their effect on our life functioning and mental health. If an individual is unable to prevent oneself from performing certain rituals and experiencing dysfunction in other areas of life because of that. It is a sign that it has turned into a psychological issue, and they seek mental health assistance.

Last edited:

Latest ads

Thank you for visiting TamilBrahmins.com

You seem to have an Ad Blocker on.

We depend on advertising to keep our content free for you. Please consider whitelisting us in your ad blocker so that we can continue to provide the content you have come here to enjoy.

Alternatively, consider upgrading your account to enjoy an ad-free experience along with numerous other benefits. To upgrade your account, please visit the account upgrades page

You can also donate financially if you can. Please Click Here on how you can do that.

I've Disabled AdBlock    No Thanks