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Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition Paperback – May 18, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (May 18, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195136349
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195136340
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 0.3 x 5.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #550,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Wade Boggs is one of the best hitters baseball has ever known; at the plate he's a master technician. He also believes that eating chicken gives him good luck, so he's eaten chicken every day for years. Starting with the superstitions of ballplayers, Stuart Vyse, a psychology professor at Connecticut College, embarks on a fascinating exploration of superstitious thoughts in Believing In Magic. Employing scientific techniques and utilizing hard facts, Vyse shows how silly superstition really is. Yet he also admits that some people do perform better when they follow their superstitious rituals. This is a highly informative book, dealing with everything from chain letters to lucky charms to lottery systems. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"Vyse, a psychology professor at Connecticut College, has drawn from research in several disciplines...to produce a thought-provoking analysis of modern-day belief in magic. Vyse's lucid prose and sense of humor make the book thoroughly readable and enjoyable....Lengthy notes and references round out an excellent resource for readers who wish to pursue a particular aspect of the pyschology of superstition. Highly recommended."--Kliatt

"Professor Vyse presents the historical, sociocultural, and psychological basis for superstition in a clear, interesting, and even entertaining way. What easily could have been a dry, over-intellectualized tome is, instead, a gem of a book that engaginly tells the story of what science has learned about superstition, of how pervasive and powerful superstition can be, and of why critical thinking skills are so important in everyday life."--Douglas A. Bernstein, Professor of Psychology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

"Many books deal with irrational beliefs but have little to say about why people cling to superstitions...and what can be done to stem the rising tide of interest in pseudoscience and the paranormal. Professor Vyse has filled this vacuum with a book as entertaining as it is enlightening."--Martin Gardner

"This book can be rewritten or updated every fifteen years, I believe, since new claptrap presents itself every day. And there are always victims out there ready to surrender their common sense for a talisman...or a ritual that puts them 'in' with their peers and gives them the warm glow of being avant-garde. Meanwhile, I urge the rationalists out there to snap up this book when they see it. It may be heading for the bonfires."--James Randi, The James Randi Educational Foundation, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

"Employing scientific techniques and utilizing hard facts, Vyse shows how silly superstition really is.... This is a highly informative book, dealing with everything from chain letters to lucky charms to the lottery system."--Amazon

"Vyse presents plenty of uncomfortable truths about the way most of us think, and plumbs a vast literary repertoire ranging from Chaucer and Melville through Leon Festinger (the author of the theory of cognitive dissonance)to get us into his corner."--Voice Literary Supplement

"An engaging introduction to psychology focused on a topic, superstition, of inherent interest to us all."--Valerie M. Chase, The Boston Book Review

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 10 customer reviews
This is a fascinating and often downright funny book.
Adam D. Shomsky
If one knows that one is vulnerable to thinking errors caused by one's physiology, then one can take steps to resist making the errors.
Lester M. Stacey
Mr. Vyse goes through superstition and how psychologically it makes sense in many of the instances.
Leon Keylin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Bucherwurm on March 16, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've found that my best days have been the ones on which I brushed my teeth. Then again my worst days have occurred after brushing my teeth. Why do I only remember the positive connections? Author Vyse has written an interesting treatise on superstitious people: their types, upbringing, and thinking.
Certain social and occupational groups tend to be particularly superstitious: athletes, sailors, soldiers, gamblers, miners, financial investors, and, surprisingly (to me), college students. Many students dress up or dress down for an exam; bring lucky pens; sit in a certain place; indulge in bizarre rituals like entering the exam room through a window, or not coming to the exam until finding a penny on the ground outside.
Although the author explores much research seeking the answer to the question of who is most likely to be superstitious, many of the results are not highly significant. One reason for the development of superstition is to give a person a feeling of control in situations where events are often beyond control. This is especially associated with depressed or highly anxious individuals, and those who are deficient in critical thinking.
Included is a very important chapter on coincidence, probability, and contiguity. Was an event a coincidence, a supernatural happening or simple proof of the laws of probability? If two events happen in immediate succession was this a coincidence or a case of cause and effect? The author, in conclusion, deplores the fact that critical thinking is not taught in schools. As a result skeptics (like myself) are derided while non-rational beliefs such as New Age thinking are often considered to be the in thing.
The beauty of this book is that it can be informative to those with psychology backgrounds, and to the general reader. It's easy reading, entertaining, and sure to increase your knowledge of superstitious behavior. Highly recommended reading.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Leon Keylin on June 16, 1998
Format: Hardcover
With out a doubt, one of the best books on the topic of beliefs. Mr. Vyse goes through superstition and how psychologically it makes sense in many of the instances. He goes in to the risk/sacrifice factor and applies it well here. From superstition to religion, from habits to rituals, from black cats to Wade Boggs and his chicken ritual.
From research with kids to research with College students, Mr. Vyse makes this a fun read. You do not need to be a Behavior Psychologist to understand this book. As a matter of fact, this was written for the rest of us. It's a fast read, and goes in to so many (relative) areas that you are lost within his book and before you know it at the end of it.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 27, 1998
Format: Hardcover
A great book for everyone on this topic. It covers many aspects of superstition. It's well organized and easy to read. Although the Coda is author's personal feeling, it explains how a non-superstitious person think and feel very well.
More technical detail in psychological aspects can be found in "The Psychology of Judgement and Decision Making" by Scott Plous. A combination reading of these two books will give you a complete and deep understanding.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A phenomenal view on superstition. I recommend this book and The Science of Superstition by Bruce Hood!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Adam D. Shomsky on September 27, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating and often downright funny book. Vyse's thesis is that superstitions are "a largely predictable outcome of the processes that control human learning and cognition".

In general, superstitions tend to develop when the nature of the problem is unclear, then something random is paired with the desired result, which supplies a strong bias to repeat it. When the "cost" of the superstitious behavior is minimal and the result is important, people tend to reason that they'd "better not risk it." Humans are pattern seeking animals and tend to find patterns even where there are none. Of course, superstitious behavior can also be learned from others.

Vyse writes, "superstitions often spring from reasoning errors, but these mistakes (illusions of control, misunderstandings of chance and probability, confirmation bias) are common to us all...reasoning errors are a natural feature of our humanity." (p 208) This book serves to explain various errors that lead to superstitious beliefs. Humans tend to make systematic reasoning errors in predictable ways, and Vyse touches on some of those that lead to superstitious behavior. Another fascinating book that does an excellent job at explaining those errors is How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life by Cornell psychologist Thomas Gilovich. As Carl Sagan wrote in Demon Haunted World, "if we resolutely refuse to acknowledge where we are liable to fall into error, then we can confidently expect that error." Understanding the reasoning errors we are prone to make is the first step to avoiding them.

I laughed out loud at the results of some of the studies. Participants in one study sat at a desk with three switches, a signal light, and a "point" counter.
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Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition
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