Saturday, October 4, 2008

Worrywart Occultists...

When we lack control over our lives, we seek out some form of structure to grasp. Apparently, this applies to beliefs in the supernatural.

Studies conducted at Illinois' Northwestern University have discovered a correlation between the level of stress someone feels and their beliefs in superstitious thoughts.

The findings were recently published in Science. Yet given the current state of affairs, some statements are hardly shocking: "On a national level, when times are economically uncertain, superstitions increase."

Half of the participants were asked to recall situations where they had no control over the outcome and reflect on the experience. They were then shown groupings of dotssome arranged in patterns, others randomly. While feeling under pressure, nearly 50% of stressed volunteers saw hidden images in the random patterns. This same group seemed to have a higher likelihood to believe in conspiracy theories and lucky objects.

Professor Jennifer Whitson of the University of Texas presided over the research. "People see false patterns in all types of data, imagining trends in stock markets, seeing faces in static, and detecting conspiracies between acquaintances," she said. "This suggests that lacking control leads to a visceral need for order – even imaginary order."

So, when we can't control something, we use our imagination. Sounds like politics to me...


Jeanne said...

One of those obvious studies that always makes me say, "Duh! Ya think so? Gee, whiz, they gave you grant money for that?"

Buck said...

How interesting in the part about pattern perception. While intuitively it might be an obvious statement, without clear data to back it up it's just a hunch.

I really thought the increase in pattern perception or rather misperception was quite interesting and could even explain a co-worker's behavior and upswing since the economic crisis hit of people being sure their photos of trees, dust, or lime scale is paranormal.

Jeanne said...

Well, I guess you're right, Buck.
It does pay to have data for folks who might not get the correlation.