The Psychology of Superstition

By Gustav Jahoda | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Superstition as a Conditioned Response

...the chance knowledge of the marvellous effects of gifted springs is probably as ancient as any sound knowledge is to medicine whatever. No doubt it was mere casual luck at first that tried these springs and found them answer. Somebody by accident tried them and by that accident was instantly cured. The chance which happily directed men in this one case, misdirected them in a thousand cases. Some expedition had answered when the resolution to undertake it was resolved on under an ancient tree, and accordingly that tree became lucky and sacred. Another expedition failed when a magpie crossed its path, and a magpie was said to be unlucky. A serpent crossed the path of another expedition, and it had a marvellous victory, and accordingly the serpent became a sign of great luck...

The worst of these superstitions is that they are easy to make and hard to destroy. A single run of luck has made the fortune of many a charm and many idols.

Walter Bagehot Physics and Politics

If one were to arrange psychological theories on a continuum ranging from 'hard'to 'soft', then Jungian psychology would definitely be located towards the latter extreme, with psychoanalysis slightly harder but still close to it. More or less at the opposite pole one would find behaviourism, claiming a nearmonopoly of scientific purity and rigour. Their respective approaches are in sharp contrast: psychoanalysis is founded largely on inferences from the verbal utterances of the mentally ill, behaviourism mainly on the behaviour of animals in experimental

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