Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Super Bowl is coming up, but did you jinx your team?

I had an ex-boyfriend who decided that I wasn't allowed to attend the local Pro-Hockey games any more. Every time I went, they lost. He was dead serious about this too. Needless to say, we had other issues and the relationship didn't last. Since then I have been to several more Hockey games, Hockey being my favorite sport, and I can't recall the home team winning once when I've gone. So there's a teeny-bit of me that does wonder, is it me?

There's a NY Times article on such superstitions, who has them, when we acquire them, and how they can be good for us.

I think an aspect that this article ignores is inconsistent reward. Superstitions can arise even when they aren't consistently rewarded. B.F. Skinner famously studied this, and has been studied since, revealing that, while consistent reward yields more consistent behavior, superstitions persist when reward is inconsistent. Gambling is often used as an example of this phenomenon in humans, many have ritual numbers, seats, trinkets, or motions while gambling.

I have no doubt that prayer works the same way. Many people are convinced it works based on their preference for memories of times when prayer worked. While most of us know our ritualized behaviors don't offer us any better "luck" in life, we are often compelled to continue them. Call it a prayer or a wish, magic or god; belief in the super-natural is persistent across all of human existence, despite much evidence to the contrary.

So, despite my atheist convictions, I still cross my fingers and put on my jersey when I go to a game, with hopes that perhaps this time my luck will change.


Blogger Aviaa said...

While most of us know our ritualized behaviors don't offer us any better "luck" in life, we are often compelled to continue them.

(nods) Subconciously, I still expect "wishing" to help, though I don't have any belief in such on a concious level.

9:13 PM  
Blogger new.atheist said...

Since I don't pray for people, I often say wish them luck... I guess I also know the futility of "wishing" and perhaps "my thoughts are with you" is more appropriate.

I think when you're personally offering someone your wishes or thoughts it can play a bit more on their own minds knowing that someone's got their back, but as far as pro-teams go, unless you personally know an athlete, I think wishing just makes the rest of us feel like we're part of the team and that we're helping in some way. Note that fans often say "we're goin to the super bowl!" even when they're just gonna be sitting on their couch. We all want to feel like we're part of the excitement somehow, even if our logic knows better. (Of course, being a fan of the Philadelphia teams, I haven't felt that excitement in a long, long time.... *sigh* and it's all because of the Curse of William Penn I tell ya! )

11:23 AM  

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