Academic journal article Economics, Management and Financial Markets

''Walking under a Ladder": Superstition and Ritual as a Cognitive Bias in Management Decision Making

Academic journal article Economics, Management and Financial Markets

''Walking under a Ladder": Superstition and Ritual as a Cognitive Bias in Management Decision Making

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. This article looks at superstition as an influence upon decision making. The article briefly describes the phenomenon of superstition, its probable origins and affects on assumptions, before explaining how superstitions work into our mental maps. Finally three categories of superstition are defined.

JEL Classification: M11, O32, D7

Keywords: cognitive bias, heuristics, superstition, decision making, culture, assumptions, mental maps.

1. Introduction

As we go about our lives, we are unconsciously immersed within the cultural fabric of the society we live in. To a certain degree what we think and do is greatly influenced by the values, beliefs, and meanings adopted by that society. Embedded within our belief systems are a wide range of customs, rituals, taboos, and behavioral codes that have basis upon superstition.

Superstition conceals hidden motives at a social level that cover society's hidden traumas. In the Freudian sense, superstition could be considered a social defense mechanism, as a means to deal with fears and anxieties that society faces. For example in hunter-gather times women were forbidden from leaving their homes when their men went hunting in order for the man to concentrate on the job at hand without worrying about the women left behind.1

Superstitions are based on flawed causalities where rationality and reasoning has been abandoned. Superstition can be seen as extended metaphors, transmitted through stories that people tell, in attempt to cover up irrationality. These stories emerge as timeless myths that become culturally patterned remedies for something that is not understood and has its basis upon events and history, a universal acumen of culture.2

Many superstitions derive basis in ancient science and remain as remnants such as the evolution of astrology.3 Superstition becomes a tool to deal with what we cannot deal with or what we don't know how to deal with, and as a "perceived means " to achieve outcomes we desire. Consequently, superstitions have no basis in today's science but still appeal as a remedy to cope with some fear, anxiety, hope, or aspiration.4

As such superstitions become symbolically real as a solution to a social problem. And through reinforced repeated behavior, symbolic reality turns into objective reality, where objects, people, and situations attract new meanings. The nature of the object itself manifests a superstition, hence the built up mythology around ladders and broken mirrors, etc. Thus superstition infers a belief in some form of esoterically, magical, or supernatural causality where one event is the cause of another event without any necessary rational or physical process linking the two events.5 Thus the realm of superstition encompasses specific socialized behaviors, belief in luck, prophecies, spiritual beings, and that future events can be foretold by unrelated rituals and ceremonies.

Superstition is an anchor to the past, transmitted through our collective consciousness by culture. History, education, film, media and religion all contribute to both maintaining and modifying a national narrative passed along from generation to generation.

New superstitions continually evolve in our national narratives to handle what we fear through the manifestation of new beliefs. For example the belief in a weapon system that will destroy asteroids on a collision course with the earth could be construed as a recently evolved superstition. There is no scientific validity to this belief, but the idea portrayed through films Like "Meteor," "Deep Impact," and "Armageddon" and the Reagan Strategic Defense Initiative known commonly as "Star Wars" during the 1980s led to the belief that the technology exists.

More controversially the saga of 9/11 can be looked at from the paradigm of myth and superstition. Fear was generated by this tragic event, and the trauma and fear was added by the 7/7 attacks in London, the railway bombing in Spain, and Taj Mahal hotel attack in Mumbai, India, reinforcing recurring messages to society sent through the media. …

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