How would you like to see an honest-to-goodness witch flying by your place at midnight this Halloween? Just put your clothes on inside out, start walking around backward, and it’ll happen.
At least that’s how the superstition goes. If you believe in that sort of thing.
And there’s a good chance that you do. Polls consistently show that about half of all Americans hold some superstitious beliefs (although not necessarily the fly-by one).
Superstitions are claims of a particular type — namely, that if X happens, then Y will happen, where (and this part is crucial) by all the rules of science and logic and simple common sense, X and Y have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. In short, “by definition, superstitious beliefs are irrational beliefs,” says Duane McClearn, a professor of psychology at Elon University in Elon, N.C.
Then why are they so widespread? Can 150 million people all be knocking on the wood of the wrong tree?