How Pervasive are Superstitious Beliefs?

by Rachel Baker on October 24, 2013

Here’s an interesting article that was excerpted from the book Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition by Stuart Vyse.

Obviously, education does not make one immune to superstitious or paranormal beliefs. Indeed, most published studies of paranormal belief have used college students as subjects. Yet we might expect that higher education, particularly in the sciences, would lead to increased critical thinking and greater skepticism. The research on this point is somewhat mixed, but there is some evidence that formal education does lead to skepticism. In a study of people working in New York City, Stuart and Lucille Blum found lower superstitious belief in those with more years of education. In 1982, Laura Otis and James Alcock published a study of several types of “extraordinary beliefs” among college students, professors, and members of the general public. In most instances, professors were found to be more skeptical than students; however, students showed the same level of supernatural belief as the general public. In a more recent large-scale study of Finish students, Kia Aarnio and Marjaana Lindeman found that, compared to university students, vocational school students had higher levels of belief in a variety of paranormal phenomena. In addition, there is evidence that certain academic fields are associated with greater skepticism than others. For example, Otis and Alcock found that, among their relatively skeptical professors, English professors were more likely to believe in ghosts, psychic phenomena, and fortunetelling. Similarly, a survey of over a thousand American faculty members on belief in ESP found social and natural scientists to be significantly more skeptical than representatives from the humanities, arts, and education. Among the social sciences, psychologists were the most skeptical. Finally, a study of Harvard undergraduates found stronger belief in astrology, ESP, and UFOs among majors in the humanities and the social and biological sciences than among natural-science majors.

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