Would You Rather Cross A Black Cat Or Break A Mirror. A Curious Case Of Spurious Correlation And Causation. Skinners Cage And Superstition In Pigeons.


There have been documented statistical studies which show that Divorce Rate in Maine USA is directly correlated with the consumption of Margarine in USA. So do you think it’s a good idea for Americans to decrease the consumption of Margarine to stabilize the institution of Marriage in Maine USA. This seems hilarious at the best and demonstrates the power of statistics to show a correlation between two random events or occurrences. There seems to be causation between two unrelated events and at the very best we are all better off in ignoring such Spurious Correlations. But do we really ignore such random correlations in our daily life May be or May be not.

Imagine you and your buddy watching a football game and your buddy happened to sneeze and team you are rooting for just had a slight dip in its performance. You blame your friends sneeze for your team’s momentary bad performance in the game. You simply overestimated your friends sneeze to have an effect on your team’s performance in the game. We all seek causation in random events and sometimes we find it even though it’s not existent and become superstitious. When two things happen within a touching distance of time and place we act as if there is a casual effect between them. Our propensity to find causality can at times lead us off the course. We all try to rationalize and ignore the coincidence of actions in most of the cases.We all have been fed with many tidbits of superstitious folklore related to bad luck ranging from a black cat crossing ones path, breaking a mirror and the famed Friday the 13th from our childhood and we have become conditioned to believe them or not as we grow up. Our experiences either reinforce or undermine the credibility of our superstitious beliefs formed out of random coincidences. On the contrary some people especially sportsmen overestimate the powers of some preposterous beliefs in bringing them good fortune.

Michael Jordan (a graduate of North Carolina) always wore his blue North Carolina shorts under his Bulls uniform for good luck.

Wade Boggs the baseball player would eat only chicken the day of a game, and used to draw a symbol that means “To Life” in the dirt before every at-bat. Former pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych used to play with the dirt on the mound and talk to himself and the ball before he pitched.

Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra got dressed the same way every day, and made sure to step on each dugout step with both feet, and tugs at his batting gloves and taps his toes during each at-bat. Superstition in Sport

Coincidences are hand in glove with superstitions and play a big part in their development. An experiment conducted by B.F.Skinner showed that coincidence have a big role in the development of superstitions.

In the Summer of 1947, renowned psychiatrist Skinner published his study on a group of pigeons that showed even animals are susceptible to the human condition that is superstition. Skinner conducted his research on a group of hungry pigeons whose body weights had been reduced to 75% of their normal weight when well-fed. For a few minutes each day, a mechanism fed the birds at regular intervals. What observers of the pigeons found showed the birds developing superstitious behavior, believing that by acting in a particular way, or committing a certain action, food would arrive.

By the end of the study, three quarters of the birds had become superstitious. One pigeon, in pursuit of food, believed that by turning around in the cage twice or three times between being fed, but not just in any direction; the bird learnt to turn anti-clockwise and appeared to believe that this would mean it being fed. -Psychologist World

We all similar to pigeons develop superstitions as we end up giving a lot of importance to what we do when something good and bad happens. We try not to repeat the action which we associated with bad luck and perform the same action we associate with good luck in a similar situation as irrational it may seem.

So do you still feel like avoiding the black cat and fear the broken mirror. Well I leave that up to you.

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RS is a deep thinker. His hobby is to analyze and reanalyze. Out of a passion to analyze he started this blog

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