klein785: February 2012 Archives

Breaking a Mirror Means What?

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An apple a day keeps the doctor away. If you walk under a ladder, you will have bad luck. To break a mirror will bring you seven years of bad luck.

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These are all common superstitions that many have heard growing up in the United States. The question is how did these superstitions originate and remain so well known throughout the years? Is operant conditioning the main indication behind the popularity? Or are most superstitions spread through history predominantly by the word of mouth?

The famous B.F. Skinner tested operant conditioning through many pigeon experiments to determine whether superstitions actually exist. Skinner's experimental results with pigeons and other animals showed: "Actions linked to reinforcement by sheer coincidence" (Morse & Skinner, 1957). This is summarized by saying there is no correlation between superstitious behaviors and consistent results.

Video:
B.F. Skinner, Behaviorism and Your Superstitious Beliefs

But do most people actually believe that at superstitions are indeed only sheer coincidence? Even if they did would they stop following their superstitious beliefs? Most likely not because of belief perseverance, but superstitious people cannot deny the origins of many of these superstitions. The superstition of a broken mirror is derived from ancient times. People in these times looked at their reflections and thought they were seeing into their souls. So if a mirror is shattered, supposedly a soul is shattered as well. Walking under a ladder is from Asia when criminals used to be hung from the seventh rung of a leaning ladder.

So do you think more superstitions are due to operant conditioning or spread from generation to generation through word of mouth?

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