Even the most rational people can hold superstitious beliefs.
The fallibility of human reason is the greatest single source of superstitious belief. Sometimes referred to as a belief in "magic", superstition can cover many spheres such as lucky or unlucky actions, events, numbers and/or sayings, a belief in astrology, the occult, the paranormal, and/ or ghosts.
When it comes to watching football it's probably best to view superstition as a belief that a given action that you do can bring good luck or bad luck to your team when there are no rational or generally acceptable grounds for such a belief.
Surveys suggest that around a third of the UK population is superstitious. The most often reported superstitious behaviours are avoiding walking under ladders, touching wood, and throwing salt over your shoulder.
There's also a stereotypical view that people involved with sport, the acting profession, miners, fishermen and gamblers are tend to hold more superstitious beliefs than what may be considered the norm.
For instance, research on regular bingo players found that 81 percent of them had at least one superstitious belief.
The majority of the population tends to have what are called "half-beliefs". On the whole, people are basically rational and don't really believe in the effects of superstition. However, in times of uncertainty, stress, and/or perceived helplessness, people seek to regain personal control over events by means of superstitious belief. This often happens in situations like watching football.
The Dutch psychologist, Prof. Willem Wagenaar proposed that in the absence of a known cause, people attribute certain events to abstract causes like luck and chance. Prof. Wagenaar differentiates between luck and chance and suggests that luck is more related to an unexpected positive result whereas chance is related to surprising coincidences. Other psychologists suggest that luck may be thought of as the property of a person whereas chance is thought to be concerned with unpredictability.
Another US psychologist, Prof. Ellen Langer argued that a belief in luck and superstition not only accounts for causal explanations when playing games of chance, but may also provide a desired element of personal control.
Even if people don't have strongly held luck and superstitious beliefs, there is some evidence that having these beliefs ("I know it's going to be our lucky night", "Am in my lucky seat we can't lose", or "My stars said we'd win") add more fun and excitement to the event watched or the game being played.
Prof. Griffiths is a psychologist at Nottingham Trent University
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