Bruce Hood – Superstitions in Baseball

October 22, 2012

The month of October is associated with falling leaves, autumn winds and Halloween. But for sports fans in the US, it also signals a high point in America’s national pastime: baseball’s postseason. After a long run of 162 games, the last weeks of October are ripe with matchups in which legends are made and broken. Any skeptic worth his or her salt, however, can’t help but marvel at the diversity and frequency of ritualistic behaviors on display amongst these world-class athletes. What is it about baseball that cause intelligent, highly-motivated, elite athletes to refrain from washing their underwear, to eat fried chicken or crunchy taco supremes, to put pennies in their supporters after every win, or chew the same piece of gum night after night, saving it under a baseball cap? The repertoire of routines that batters engage in while stepping into the box is often as choreographed as a ballet: with commentators going so far as calling Mike Hargrove the human rain delay because of his extended dance.

To navigate this swamp of superstition, we talked to Bruce Hood, a Canadian-born experimental psychologist, whose popular book SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable, has shed light on our tendency towards irrational behaviors. Professor Hood is the director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Centre at the University of Bristol, where he studies the origins of supernatural beliefs, intuitive theory formation, inhibitory control and general cognitive development. He has been awarded a Sloan Fellowship among other honors, and is a Fellow of the American Psychological Science society. In 2011, he delivered the Royal Institution Christmas lectures broadcast by the BBC to over 4 million viewers. His most recent book is the Self Illusion, which calls into question our view of ourselves as coherent, integrated individuals.

This is point of inquiry for Monday, October 22nd, 2012. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m Indre Viskontas point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and at the grassroots. The month of October is associated with falling leaves. Autumn winds and Halloween. But for sports fans in the US, it also signals a high point in America’s national pastime. Baseball’s post season, after a long run of 162 games the last weeks of October, are ripe with matchups in which legends are made and broken. Any skeptic worth his or her salt, however, can’t help but marvel at the diversity and frequency of ritualistic behaviors on display among these World-Class athletes. What is it about baseball that causes intelligent, highly motivated elite athletes to refrain from washing their underwear to eat fried chicken or crunchy Taco Supreme’s to put pennies and their supporters after every win or to the same piece of gum? Night after night after night, saving it under their baseball cap, the repertoire of routines that batters engage in while stepping into the box as often as choreographed as a ballet. With commentators going so far as calling Mike Hargrove the human rain delayed because of his extended dance. To navigate the swamp of superstition, we talked to Bruce Hood, a Canadian born experimental psychologist whose popular book Supercenters Why We Believe the Unbelievable, has shed light on our tendency towards irrational behaviors. Professor Hurd is the director of the Bristol Cognitive Development Center at the University of Bristol, where he studies the origins of supernatural beliefs. Intuitive theory, formation, inhibitory control and general cognitive development. He has been awarded a Sloan Fellowship, among other honors, and is a fellow of the American Psychological Science Society. In 2011, he delivered the Royal Institution Christmas lectures broadcast by the BBC to over four million viewers. His most recent book is The Self Illusion, which calls into question our view of ourselves as coherent, integrated individuals. Welcome to a point of inquiry. Bruce Hood. 

Hi. Their injury. It’s great to hear from you again. It’s been a few years since your last appearance on our show. And now that it’s the month of October, those of us in the US, at least some of us, are more and more interested in what’s going on in the baseball post season. And I was watching some of the postseason games and I noticed how the players go through this fairly ritualistic repertoire of behaviors before they, you know, actually swing their bats or throw their pitches. It made me wonder just how common and how the reasons for superstitious behaviors might be in baseball compared to other sports. So I thought that it would be great to speak to you, who is an expert in superstitious behavior, to get some insights into really what’s going on in the minds of these players. 

So first off, do you have any thoughts on why in baseball in particular, superstitious behaviors might be more common than in other professional sports? 

Well, I don’t even know if that’s true. To be honest. Superstitions are found in many sports. And even if it’s just the individual sports person, they tend to have. So I don’t know if it’s just more common. They just might be more visible because it’s broadcast. So I’m not sure that’s actually true. That is more prevalent. 

Mm hmm. One of the things that I thought might account, if you’re right, we don’t I don’t know for sure that it’s more prevalent that much. But if it were, that might account for it might be the fact that baseball is one of these games that is really there. 

There are a lot of opportunities for rewards. So a homerun or a strikeout, but these rewards don’t happen very frequently, that there is a lot of playing in which people miss the best, the ball entirely or miss their pitch. And that that kind of uncertainty might breed more superstition in an attempt to control what seems to be uncontrollable. Is that could that be true? 

Well, I think that’s entirely plausible. I mean, the whole point about superstition is to give you the edge, to give you a sense of control. And so you find superstitions and any activity where the outcomes are really important, but it’s very difficult to predict those outcomes. But actually, a lot of sport is like that anyway. So that’s what makes it kind of it’s not just I agree. The athleticism of the individual in something like baseball, I would imagine that there are many factors, as you say, you can’t necessarily predict. So that probably makes outcomes that much more difficult. 

And of course, the romance of baseball, too, is ripe with stories of very superstitious behavior. 

So, for example, the curse of the Bambino, which is apparently what happened to the Red Sox for something like 86 years in between the time in which they actually sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees and then never again or not until what is it, 2004 won the World Series one more time. 

And then there’s the curse of Billy the Goat for the Chicago Cubs. So they were cursed, whatever, winning the World Series. And then, yeah, there are many it dates right back to the beginnings of the sport. It’s something it’s been there a long, long time. 

And do you think that superstitions tend to be culturally specific or in this case related to the culture or the romance of baseball? Is that it? Does it they seem more prevalent because of something cultural? Or is it something that it’s just, you know, that that is seen in in every sport or in every. In a lot of situations, but simply more talked about in certain cultures. 

Yeah. Well, we all remember, of course, that not everyone plays baseball in the world is very much an American sport, but I’m not sure it’s entirely culture. I think you find it in. You’ll find it anywhere. We have it in soccer over in Europe. You’ve got it in American football. And, of course, tennis is notoriously full of superstitious players. So I’m not I’m not sure that it’s actually more prevalent. This is the point. 

And so what is the relationship between superstitious behavior and religious belief? 

Is there a correlation between. Someone’s belief and A. S a higher power, such as God controlling their game and the amount of superstitious behaviors they engage in. Or are atheists just as likely to engage in these superstitious behaviors in these in these sports? 

Well, I made a point in the book. I wrote a super sense that it’s not the case that atheists are devoid of any supernatural foot thinking or magical thinking. I don’t know if it’s more prevalent in people who have religious beliefs. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is. But I think the more important point is that everyone to a certain extent has these sorts of beliefs. And even people who claim they don’t probably don’t recognize that they have beliefs like this. They just simply don’t see them as such. So they wouldn’t necessarily regard habits or rituals or superstitions as being on the same level as, say, a belief in a greater being like God. So it probably is less prevalent, but I’m not sure it’s been proved. I don’t think anyone’s actually done that analysis to look at. 

Is there a difference between a ritual that’s conducted for the sake of a belief in a higher power vs. one in which someone says, well, you know, I’m pretty sure this isn’t gonna have an effect, but I’m not going to walk on that crack in the sidewalk anyway. 

Well, I think there’s something to remember is that these beliefs actually work. There’s a few studies now which have shown that people who have superstitious beliefs, especially when it comes to performance, i.e. sports people, they actually do perform better. So it’s not exactly as if it’s a weird or rational way of thinking. It’s actually a very valid way of thinking. So, for example, if you get people across their fingers or you tell them that the golf ball that they’re playing with is lucky, they they do much better. They perform better than people who don’t have any cross fingers or playing just with an ordinary ball. Or if you give them a putter that belongs to someone like Ben Curtis. People are much more accurate in their putting on the reason that the accurate markers, that they think the hole is larger. So these beliefs have really measurable effects on on psychological constructs. You know, something like seeing how large a golf ball is, much better. So in the case of baseball, I think probably what’s going on is that when you have a you entertain these beliefs, these rituals and routines give you a sense of control and having a sense of control, we know alleviates a lot of anxieties and gives you more confidence. So confidence, of course, boosts yourself a efficacy. So both the perception of control and the boost in confidence improve performance. And it’s when you walk players in their ability to do these rituals, then they generally don’t do so well. So it’s a very adaptive way of thinking. 

So what do you think changes in terms of do you think it’s a perceptual shift that happens in the sense that, you know, they’re their focus is now more open, they can actually see more? Or is it simply that the confidence quiets down the judgment in their brain and prevents them from stopping a ballistic movement, for example? 

I think it’s a really interesting question, and I’d love to find the answer to that. I simply don’t know. I mean, the study of the seeing the perceptual effects were only published last year. And so I think that whereas we used to just dismiss this kind of irrationality as being sort of wooly thinking. It turns out it’s not irrational at all. It’s actually quite rational. And if you think about complex tasks like hitting a high velocity ball, you know, focusing your attention, being in the zone, as it were, these are all ways of thinking which just put you on task and make it much more efficient if you don’t have the confidence, you more distractible, I would imagine, and therefore you’re not, that your performance is just not going to be that good. So I think there’s probably a variety of really quite scientifically valid factors which could improve performance that these beliefs are tapping into. 

So in the learning and memory field, we often talk about two competing memory systems. 

You know, there is your you’re declarative memory system, which is responsible for your conscious remembering of facts and events and then your non declarative system, which is responsible for learning skills and habits such as riding a bike or I imagine swinging a baseball exactly the right time. And that there are there are moments in which these two memory systems interact in a positive way. That is, you can, you know, enhance learning by using declarative memory, even for a procedural task. But they also compete for your attentional resources. So, for example, often if you think too much about exactly how you’re swinging a bat or a golf club, it can impair your performance. So is it possible that some of these ritualistic behaviors actually have more of an influence to getting the person to think more with their basal ganglia or their procedural memory system and turn off this declarative memory system? 

I’m not sure it’s the best game by totally by your hypothesis. I think it’s entirely plausible. That certainly was something hitting hitting a ball, traveling as fast as a baseball. You don’t want to be thinking about in fact, you can’t think about it travels far too fast for you to get to do any computations. And in many ways, often the batter is already planning the stretch in the planning the stroke. 

They’re going to use before the ball leaves. So they’re there reading all the behavior they’re trying to interpret and vast amounts of information. And if you rely and if your experience of this sort of thing, then or all the experience leads to an intuitive sense of what to do. And that’s why experts, not just sportsmen, but experts, when they acquire skills they do very effortlessly in the first system, but then they can be transferred into a system which goes off line is much more automatic. And that’s, you know, that’s a good advantage when you’re having to respond very, very quickly. So I suspect that possibly the routines and the habits get people into that mindset, which is preparing them to so rely on the secondary system that you’ve talked about. But whether it’s the basic I mean, I’m not sure that’s again, another interesting empirical question. 

So some of the sportswriters that talk about superstition and baseball actually make a distinction between a routine which presumably does have some kind of correlation with the desired end. That is, you know, relaxes a particular muscle or, you know, get something else going versus a ritual, which is a behavior in which there really is no correlation or at least no visible one between the means and the end. So, for example, Wade Boggs eating fried chicken before every game, which in some ways, sometimes those rituals can actually be harmful. I imagine, you know, eating like I think it’s Justin Verlander who eats, you know, a ton of Taco Bell stuff before every pitching start, which, you know, sounds disgusting and probably not the most, you know, the best way to prepare your body. 

So what do you think? Where do these rituals come from when there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between the means and the end? 

Well, I think that in many instances, rituals arrive from a principle called post hoc, ergo propter hoc, which translates from Latin, which means after this. Therefore, because of this one, that refers to the fact that our brains are really designed for seeing causality. So we are always trying to see events as being directly related to each other. And if you’re having a particularly successful day, for example, on the pitching field or the baseball field or your or whatever area sport, you try to recreate the circumstances of the events around the time which were connected with it. And this is a very much what we call a Skinnerian type of associative learning principle that you look for those things which are unusual. You try to repeat them again in an attempt to just basically set up the circumstances for I would point out, though, they might also there might also be an interesting relationship to fastidiousness. So, for example, David Beckham, I think he’s over in your country now, but he’s a very he was a really great soccer player. He had this amazing capacity to kick a ball and bend it. And it required many, many hours and hours of practice. And it’s no secret. He submitted himself. He has a degree of obsessive compulsive disorder. And so people who have this need to see and control and ritualistic behavior that I think it appeared to be a cluster of symptoms, if you like, that all go together. So someone who’s inclined towards superstitious behavior might also be someone who’s very fastidious. So he spends hours practicing, someone who tries to refine their techniques all the time. So it might be another factor to consider what why some people are so good at it. And an analysis of, for example, basketball teams find that the more successful teams have, the more superstitious behaviors. But then again, it might be because they just have these players who spend that much more practicing. 

Yeah, that’s really interesting. So it suggests that even though maybe some of the best baseball players might have more of these superstitions behaviors, their performance might be explained simply by the fact that they also practice far more. 

Indeed, I think that’s another interesting question, which is open yet. We still don’t know the answer to the. 

So I want to shift gears a little bit and ask you if, you know, if there’s any relationship between the amount of superstitious behavior or belief and education. So the reason I ask is that often people point to baseball in particular as a sport in which many of the professional players have not gone to college because they can play professional baseball right out of high school, which is not the case for, say, basketball and football, American football, where there is a set in college system that can, you know, help them develop their skills further and and actually be good for their careers. So is there any relationship between amount of education and the amount of superstitious belief and or practicing rituals? 

Well, I wasn’t aware of that work. I mean, that’s tends to support the first question you asked me, which is a, do you find as more superstition in baseball, in comparison, other sports? Certainly there is a link between education and belief in supernatural magical thinking. 

We know that’s in the realm of religious belief, but selfish way of seeing the world. But I wasn’t aware that there was different educational passes that were for those two different types of sport. Again, an interesting hypothesis worth worth looking into. 

So there’s also a distinction that sportswriters make between rituals which are designed to enhance performance and taboos, which are, you know, behaviors that we don’t do in order to avoid poor performance. So, for example, in the middle of a no hitter, you don’t mention the fact that you’re in a no hitter so that you don’t jinx the pitcher. 

Is there anything different about taboos versus rituals in terms of how how they affect our performance or where they come from in terms of our beliefs? 

I hadn’t thought about that. I would imagine. Well, I mean, there are taboos. I mean, the word taboo, of course, is a cultural type of thing. And it’s used outside the context of sport. 

And they generally reflect practices or activities which are deemed to be not good for the group. The Boon’s sport, I suspect, is this, again, is is the issue of jinxing. And it must be the flip side of the positive side of supernatural thinking that if you don’t do something, it’s obviously going to lead to adverse effects. And there’s all I mean, it’s not just the sports people as well. It’s also the fans. You know, fans also try and engage with their players when they’re watching and also do certain things on on match days, not to Jinksy the outcome of the game, but whether one is more potent than the other. I simply don’t know the answer to that. 

Well, it’s interesting that you mentioned the idea of taboos being a group thing, whereas rituals tend to be behaviors that are more personal that each player does on their own. 

Whereas, you know, Tabuni, I can see that how that would be a group or a cultural, I think that everybody aspires or ascribes to. Is there some difference between rituals that are conducted within the context of a group in which everyone is doing them versus rituals that happen to be just related to one individual? 

Yeah, I think that must be so that I think that most teams will have traditions, other what we call them, traditions. But if you look at a lot of our traditions, you know, throwing Soulsville over our shoulder and we’re no one really knows where they came from. And the assumption is that you’re just tempting fate to be don’t do it. And tempting fate, by the way, is something, again, which is a very negative set of thought processes that people don’t want to do. It makes you feel bad about it. If everyone is doing it and you don’t do it, then there’s a lot of pressure on you to conform. Whereas the individualistic, superstitious routines, I mean, they can be totally idiosyncratic. And, you know, Wade Boggs, for example, as you say, of eating chickens, that’s not something which is endorsed by the team. That is something which has just emerged off his own, his own peculiarities. David Beckham having to have an equal number of kinds of color in his fridge. You know, if you look at lots of people have got weird. I mean, in fact, all of us do to some extent. You know, some of us like to read the newspaper in a certain order. And we don’t like it when people muck around with their head habits. I mean, the line I think it’s a fairly fine line between habitual behaviors and then obsessive behaviors, which you need to do in order to feel that you have completed or or you have control. So I think it’s a continuum. And that’s why I’m always reminding people that it’s not as if education can eradicate these things, because very often they’re quite deep down and they reflect aspects of our personality. I happen to think they reflect aspects of the way that we process information and people vary along those dimensions. Some people are incredibly fastidious and some people are a little bit more like today’s Daisaku about things. But yeah, I think there are biological bases for some of these things. I think culture plays into it to a large extent, but they are very different in terms of how they manifest. 

Well, let’s let’s talk a little bit about then how these particular behaviors might develop. 

So where do they come from? Do they start in childhood or is it more when once we become adults and we realize how little we have control over the rest of the world? 

Well, yeah. I mean, any parent will tell you that children have their routines and they start very early on. I mean, we we get them into routines as part of their whole parenting process of putting to bed at 9:00. Now, they won’t go to bed unless you get them into a routine. So the brain is always looking for structure and order. But my particular interest is what happens as we start to mature and our brains develop these these capacities for more flexible thinking. And so this is part of the what we call the the cortex, which is the upper structures of the brain, which are there an operating in babies. They’re just not fully mature. And over the course of childhood, you increasingly develop more flexible thinking. And one of the ideas I developed in the book, Super Sense, was that a lot of the magical thinking that we have, you can trace the roots to it in just childhood misconceptions. But as you learn more about the world around you, you can suppress these. The trouble is that the childhood misconceptions are insured. If no one really teaches them these ideas, OK, which means that they can reemerge under times of stress when you don’t have your full capacity to sort of stop yourself having these silly thoughts, as it were. So I think there are two systems of reasoning, one which is very kind of unconscious and automatic and intuitive, and another one which is much more rational, much more a slower. And works in many instances to suppress these intrusive thoughts. And that’s why, you know, when you’re suddenly in a very stressful situation, you monthly, you might start having these really silly, irrational thinking because this is your automatic default. 

And so what is it about these stressful situations that changes the way our brains function? 

Is it simply, you know, that pool of cortisol or other neurotransmitters that are sort of coming into the brain and shutting off systems of our of our rational thinking? 

Or is there something more sort of primitive and so something that could actually help us in situations in which we are in dire consequences? 

Well, what I suggested is a mechanism, a sole hypothesis. We haven’t proven it yet. Well, I think there’s a continual interaction between the Top-Down processes that we talk about. And the bottom up systems which are firing automatically. I think what happens in a stressful situation is your capacity to regulate thoughts are compromised because of the demands of the situation. And so you have these intrusions. Now, I don’t know the mechanism by which those things are coordinated. We believe there’s a process of inhibition suppression, which is why when you take drugs, which deactivate the frontal lobes, even recreation, things like alcohol, then you can have all these these sort of automatic thoughts suddenly rising to the to the fore. So my suspicion is it’s a combination of overloading frontal lobes and the activating systems which suppress automatic thoughts. It could be the case. I mean, you could argue that maybe these automatic thoughts, you know, fighting or flight fleeing situations, you know, the typical drives, we’d have no advantage to to get you out of a situation rather than trying to reason it through, which is, of course, what happens in that stream, anxieties and panic situations, which, of course, are associated with magical thinking. 

And do you think that there is something in the development of a child that can lead to this sort of ritualistic or even obsessive compulsive behavior that is situational rather than to do with the genetics or the biology of their brain in isolation of their experience? 

Well, I think you can you can certainly train children up. You can induce, you know, ritualistic behaviors in them. But my suspicion is it’s much more to do with the biology and the and the variations that you see are to do with the various circuitry which regulate these different types of automatic and controlled thinking processes. 

Mm hmm. And of course, the biology doesn’t act outside of you know, it’s very much influenced by experience. 

Yeah, absolutely. It makes it doesn’t really make sense to talk about them in total isolation. You’re absolutely right. They’re always interacting. 


So one of the things that I wondered also relating back to the baseball question is whether there might be situations in which players feel they have more control over the game and whether that would have any effect on the extent to which they engage in ritualistic behaviors. And specifically, I’m thinking about a time in baseball, which we call the steroid era, in which a lot of our hitters were taking steroids and therefore hitting more home runs. And it became more of a hitting game rather than a pitching game, which has it has since become again. And do you do you know of any situations in which these the sense of control that that a person has over their environment shifts the importance of their ritualistic behaviors down, or whether these ritualistic behaviors are there, regardless of how much control the person feels they have over the situation? 

You know, there’s been a couple of studies. The first one that comes to mind is a study done during the first Iraq war when the Iraqis was flying, they were sending Scud missiles for shooting them into Israel. And they did an analysis of people who are in the at risk zones and found an increase in superstitious ritualistic behavior and those who were at risk in comparison to those who were in safer regions of the time. 

And then more recently, there’s been a study published in Sciences, which is one of our top journals, Whitsun and Golinski demonstrated that if you increase people’s perceptions of a lack of control, you get them to reminisce over times when they didn’t have control or you give them these experimental games which are rigged. So no matter what they do, they can’t win. Then you see an increase in superstitious thinking and behavior. Hmm. Mm hmm. 

But what about the opposite? What if you rigged the experiments such that they thought they had control, whereas in fact they didn’t? Do you then also see a decrease in ritualistic behavior? 

Well, I dunno. I was surprised to find that they got the increase, but one predicted that that should go that direction. Yes. I mean, that seems it seems it seems to me fairly true. I mean, if if life is going ticking along quite happily and mundane, then there’s no Rita, there’s no reason really to kind of engage in or change anything. Everything’s going fine. It’s when things start to go wrong, that’s when people feel they need to take actions to do things. 

And of course, this dates back to the really old work on the tribute to nine Lenders’ Malinauskas was when the original researchers looking at superstitious behavior and he found that they these islander’s they they fished in two locations, either in the safe lagoon or out in the open seas. And if they knew they were going onto the open seas, then they had to engage in all these rituals. But that was only because open sea was more dangerous. In the same way, I expect that you’ll find that many professions, whether they’re fishermen or firefighters, whatever, they will have rituals for specific situations or you know, it as the stress increases, then you can find it as a present. And, you know, as I said, I don’t think it’s in the book, but I certainly didn’t mention that, that even astronauts, the Russian astronauts have rituals before they go to the Soyuz spacecraft. So and so. Yeah, it’s not as if it’s really thinking or uneducated people. I think we all do it to a certain extent. 

And even B.F. Skinner, his original description of superstitious behaviors and pigeons came from this idea that if you reward a pigeon in this case with food at a very random intermittent rate, the pigeon will then associate whatever behavior they just did with that reward and continue to engage in that superstitious behavior. But the interesting feature of those studies, of course, is that that behavior does not get extinguished easily and that it continues on because of this very random, intermittent reward rate. And so it seems as if even if, you know that that that there’s this positive relationship between doing these behaviors and there’s hope for a very elusive reward. 

And especially in baseball, where, of course, the reward is the homerun, which which is quite elusive. 

I think you’re I think you’re right. I think well, this is one of the features of a system of learning that was what’s called intermittent reinforcement. 

You know, every so often it takes longer for the behavior to become acquired, but it also takes a lot longer for it to extinguish. So it’s the unpredictable nature of the rewards which makes us go. And, of course, this explains gambling behavior. You know, if if you didn’t win at all, then you’d soon stop gambling. It’s because of the occasional win we’re hearing about. Slim win is sufficient to keep that behavior all the time. It is self reinforcing as well. So that’s part of the issue. I should point out that the Skinner experiment has been over interpreted in many ways because the implication was that any behavior could become reinforced. And that’s not entirely true. It’s only behaviors which are in the natural repertoire of the bird. 

Oh, that’s really interesting. So, for example, the rewards of a bad are going up into the batting box, sensitive swing around the bat that are related to the swing are much more likely to become part of their ritual than something that is outside of that repertoire. 

I believe so, yes. I think that the Skinner story was very good, but it didn’t survive the test of time and replications to the extent. 

I mean, there’s definitely a sense of learning and you can definitely increase the likelihood of behaviors through reinforcement schedules, but you can’t make people do just about anything. 

Mm hmm. Well, that’s interesting. 

Speaking of having people do just about anything. We are also coming up to Halloween, which, of course, is a time in which everybody almost in a lot of people who aren’t don’t have supernatural beliefs do engage in something that looks from an outsider’s perspective very much like, you know, a supernatural ritual or belief. 

And so what is it about Halloween, do you think that continues to intrigue people, cultures around the world? 

Well, Halloween is origins or Celtic mythology. So it’s an example of a example of a cultural superstition. I mean, I tend to use the word superstitions for very well-defined behaviors and activities. Supernatural thinking and beliefs are a little bit more elaborated. And then, of course, the most elaborated our full religions. But, of course, Halloween is All Hallows Eve, which was a belief that on this particular day, this is when the dead would rise up. And so the idea was that you had to scare them away. And that’s why people dress up the way they do. It’s a much bigger event in the US than it is in the U.K., although I think we’re falling behind. We’re trying to pick up on. I think you’ve turned it into such a fun occasion that really I think it’s actually a I love is very colorful in the States and you have all these great parties. We haven’t really got to that level of enjoyment yet in the U.K. But, you know, we tend to do something on November the 1st when we set fire to effigies of traitors. So Guy Fawkes Night A. So everyone has different types of events. And I don’t think people enjoy taking part in bizarre, funny behavior. 

I often thought to part of it was now is the nights are getting longer. We have less to do with our time. And so we sort of engage in some of this more ritualistic behavior. Is there anything else that you feel we should know about as we go around the world and try to avoid these these not very useful ritualistic behaviors? 

Well, I’m not sure they’re not very useful, as I say, I think they are. 

I think they can be very useful. It’s when they start to control your lives and you’re entering into the territory of psychopathologies. And about 150 people have obsessive compulsive disorder. So it’s not uncommon. And they often very much keep it secret from from a lot of their colleagues and family. So there are disorders which are related to superstitious behavior, but they’ve become so over whelming that they really do threaten the person’s livelihood. 

So what is the trigger that happens, that that makes some seemingly innocuous behaviors become obsessive? 

I really don’t know the answer to that. I mean, there are arguments, again, to do with the circuitry of the drive systems. 

But there’s a system you’re aware of probably the limbic system, which is the reward systems of the brain. But they also control the drives that motivate our behaviors. 

And these these activities seem to reduce a lot of anxiety. And it’s really it’s the fact that they can’t if they feel thwarted or they can’t engage in these rituals, they find that very distressing. And then they get a degree of relief when they can wash their hands or collect the rubbish or do all the things that OCD people do. So it’s a negative feedback loop in the sense that they don’t do it. The urge becomes all the more greater. And then once they’ve engaged in the ritual, they get that temporary relief. But then the next time around, it becomes more worse. So so I think it’s really to do with a malfunctioning feedback system that gets out of control. 

I’d like to remind our listeners that they can find copies of Super and his new book, The Self-delusion How the Social Brain Creates Identity through our website point of inquiry dot org. 

Thanks very much for being on point of inquiry. Bruce Hood, thank you. Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to join the discussion about today’s show on superstitions in baseball. Visit point of inquiry dot org. You can also send questions and comments to feedback at point of inquiry, dot org on Twitter, at point of inquiry and on Facebook at slash point of inquiry. Views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. 

One of inquiries produced by Adam Isaac in Amherst, New York. And our music is composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael Waylan. Today’s intro feature, Debbie Goddard. I’m your host Indre Viskontas. 

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