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Mental Health Matters: Are you superstitious about 2013?

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The year 2013 has arrived and the question needs to be asked: Are you superstitious?

When asked about this, Tommy Smothers of The Smothers Brothers said, “I’m pretty stitious, but I wouldn’t say I was super-stitious.”

For people with anxiety disorders and who are also superstitious, it is no laughing matter.

A superstition can be described as “magical thinking”, in which  one might believe future events can be influenced by unrelated factors, such as walking under ladders, stepping on sidewalk cracks or having black cats pass in front of you.

By definition, superstitions arise from beliefs and not logical or scientific evidence.

One of the most common superstitions of all is a fear of events related to the number 13.

This belief is pervasive and has been passed down from generation to generation — for 2013 years, if the suggested origin of the superstition is believed.

At the Last Supper in Christian theology, there were 13 dinner guests and that number became considered to be unlucky because Christ was betrayed.

In Norse mythology, 12 benevolent gods were gathering in a hall and the evil god Loki attacked the group.

Loki was the 13th guest and the god Balder was killed.

Many prominent people were fearful of the number 13, including U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt, who took great pains to avoid hosting a meal for a group of that size.

If he had a cancellation and it looked as if there might be 13 people to lunch, he invited his secretary to join them so there wouldn’t be 13.

The fear of the number 13 is so pervasive that it even has a phobia named after it — triskaidekaphobia.

Based on this phobia, airlines typically do not have a 13th row and most tall buildings do not have a 13th floor.

High-level athletes can be particularly superstitious and insist on following a series of rituals in order to ensure good performance or avoidance of injury.

In baseball in particular, there are a large number of stories —  many of them hilarious if it can be forgotten the practitioners suffered terribly from their ritualistic behaviours.

Another reason to take superstitions seriously is that it can be a common theme among those who have a gambling addiction.

Psychologists believe superstitions arise because people associate an outcome with a particular event, even though the outcome was arrived at completely by chance.

This was proven in the lab more than 65 years ago when BF Skinner automatically fed pigeons at a regular timed interval and the animals associated the arrival of food with whatever behaviour they had done just before.

A pigeon that was turning counter-clockwise repeatedly turned that direction in order to influence the arrival of more food.

When the food did arrive — as it would on the timed schedule —  this cemented the belief that turning counter-clockwise was the reason the food arrived.

It is true we are not pigeons, but we all can relate to an experience where we associated an outcome to something based only our beliefs or our feelings.

We should be reassured there is no scientific reason to fear 2013.

In fact, the number of natural and accidental disasters in 1913 were many times fewer than in either 1912 or 1914 — such as the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

Until next time, take care of your mental well-being and write to us at kamloops@cmha.bc.ca with your questions and comments because we love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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