Customer Reviews

10
4.6 out of 5 stars
5 star
8
4 star
1
3 star
0
2 star
1
1 star
0
Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition
Format: PaperbackChange
Price:$20.65 + Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2002
Format: PaperbackVerified 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.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
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.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
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.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
on August 20, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
A phenomenal view on superstition. I recommend this book and The Science of Superstition by Bruce Hood!
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 2008
Format: PaperbackVerified 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. They were told that "they were not required to do anything in particular but that they should try to earn as many points as possible. Points appeared on the counter on different schedules...always completely independently of anything the students did." Various superstitious behaviors emerged. "As might be expected, most of these behaviors involved patterns of lever pulls. For example, one student made four rapid pulls on a single lever then held the lever for several seconds. The student used this pattern repeatedly for over thirty minutes, alternating among the three levers...of course, the students' responses had absolutely no effect on the delivery of points, but in each case, a careful analysis of the data revealed that each superstitious pattern of lever-pulling began with a coincidence: a point being given at the end of a sequence of responses." (p 73) Some participants developed superstitions unrelated to the levers; one woman's behavior was described as such: "...she climbed on the table and put her right hand on the counter. Just as she did so, another point was delivered. Thereafter she began to touch many things in turn, such as the signal light, the screen, a nail on the screen, and the wall. About 10 minutes later, a point was delivered just as she jumped to the floor, and touching was replaced by jumping. After five jumps, a point was delivered when she jumped and touched the ceiling with her slipper in her hand. Jumping to touch the ceiling continued repeatedly and was followed by points until she stopped about 25 minutes into the session, perhaps because of fatigue."
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
40 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on December 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A rationalist must be intellectually "on guard" against both bunk and would-be de-bunkers. This should have been a much better book. * The author includes as evidence of superstition the well-known sports rituals such as bouncing the basketball a set number of times in a set pattern at the free throw line. He includes data on such practices in reporting the prevalence of superstition in sports, early and throughout the book. After 90 pages, he allows that "these personal rituals serve a number of valuable purposes and are not at all superstitions", citing the advantages of focus, the ritual becoming part of the context of the performance, the feedback, the value of visualization, etc. "Psychological research supports the importance of this strategy, and coaches often encourage athletes to develop a standard routine." But earlier, on page 28, he lists 14 actions labeled "Superstitions" that include "Standing in identical spot for free throw", an absolutely absurd labeling as superstition of something that is obvious common sense! (By my evaluation, 9 of the 14 "superstitions" unequivocally make good sense as psychological "anchors" or better.) * On page 90, he addresses what should have been addressed much earlier: "So when are they [routines] superstitious? A routine becomes superstitious when a particular action is given special, magical significance." He acknowledges "...it is often difficult to draw the line between superstition and useful preparation..." Yes indeed, as any sports psychologist would tell you, and why bother? But the problem is that the author has preceded this with 89 pages (and follows it with another hundred or so) of not making this distinction, or citing "data" on incidence of superstition that take no account of this distinction. How could Skinner's famous experiments, cited at length and with approval, possibly give data on the development of "superstition" in pigeons when the distinction cannot be based on "magical significance." Basketball players were not asked. * A bald non-scientific bias in his own position shows up early (page 27) when the author addresses datasets that show a positive correlation between "superstitious" acts (like free-throw rituals) and success. At this point in the book, the author has not yet acknowledged any possible non-magical value, so what is he to do with this data? A sports psychologist or coach would say it is not a superstition at all, but an "anchor", and use the data to show that it works; using a free-throw ritual improves success. But Vyse, because he has labeled all this "superstition", cannot dare to say that "superstition" leads to success. So he reverts to the only alternative when faced with a data correlation. He claims that the evidence shows not that "superstition breeds success" but rather that "success breeds superstition!" (See page 27, last line.) After the belated acknowledgment of the value of routine and rituals on page 90, he again reverts to his earlier position of no value. * Similar flawed data interpretations occur throughout the book. Some are (or at least could be) just a matter of industrial safety and prudence (not walking under ladders, pg. 48) or unpleasant associations (e.g. pg. 9) or interest in science fiction (pg. 16) or team cheers (pg. 29) or team socializing (pg. 197) or emotional state management by prayer or music (pg. 31). * A technical failure involves what should have been the most important lesson of the book, and probably still makes a worthwhile impression on readers, in spite of the fact that it is incorrectly explained. This involves the erroneous interpretation of the 2x2 outcome matrix to develop illusory correlations (page 116). * The Chapter 1 summary of sociological studies of religion and magic is excellent, and Chapter 3 on the relation between superstition and coincidence is good, and is a major aspect of the "problem" of superstition. But I would have noted that the ability of humans and other animals to recognize coincidence is part of intellect and provides the precursor of scientific work - this is the origin of hypotheses. Many of the laboratory tests cited (wherein psychologists use deception to victimize their sophomore students with frustrating tasks) that purport to show the emergence of "superstitious behavior" would show to me no more than tentatively held hypotheses and practical fuzzy logic, a subject that the author should have engaged. I see little difference between the emergence of "superstitious" behavior in Skinner's pigeons or frustrated sophomores and computer neural networks. * The treatment of expected utility theory (pp 188-195 and elsewhere) is inadequate, and obvious counter-examples to this economic "theory" are easily constructed. Throughout, the author should have distinguished not just between rational and irrational, but also arational. It is not until pg. 123 that he gives a definition of paranormal, and by it many of his previous accusations would be excluded. He admits the shortcomings of profiling a superstitious person but still presents the pseudo-scientific result (pg 55); it is largely meaningless. (And insulting - e.g., the superstitious person is female!) He makes much of an imagined distinction (pg 220 and elsewhere) between feeling "fortunate" (OK) and "lucky" (superstitious and not OK), an empty distinction not supported by thesaurus or dictionary. He fails to communicate the essential aspect of random coin tosses - they do not "even out" as he states (pg 100), rather the cumulative ratio of heads to tails only tends to approach (not reach) a limit value of 1. His call (pg 212) to teach critical thinking is welcome, but one could teach such a course using his book as a foil! * In summary, the book was worth reading, but to my disappointment I found I continually had to be "on guard" against flaws in logical inferences, prejudice in examining data, premature conclusions from small sample studies, implied guilt or innocence by association in lists, and manipulation by labeling - on guard against the same techniques used in claims of psychics, numerologists, astrologers, and herbal quacks.
11 commentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2009
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I bought this for my brother's birthday, and he loves it. He is has a BS in Psychology, and I thought this would be a great present for him!
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
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.

This book helps develop an awareness of that exact human vulnerability.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is very through and informative. Even through it was 1st written in 1997, it has explained a lot concerning the more idiosyncratic behaviors and beliefs people are known for.

Worth my time and money and I am very happy with this purchase.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2002
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
After reading this book, I realized that I had a superstition: The inability to read a "critique" that's more than a page long (1,000 words Max?). A lot of books I will read to about three-quarters of the way through; after that it's just drivel. This book was very interesting and entertaining. I found it mentally enthralling. Thanks Stuart A. Vyse!
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
     
 
Customers who viewed this also viewed
Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition - Updated Edition
Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition - Updated Edition by Stuart A. Vyse (Paperback - October 1, 2013)
$16.83


 
     

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.

Your Recently Viewed Items and Featured Recommendations 
 

After viewing product detail pages, look here to find an easy way to navigate back to pages you are interested in.