By Carin Gorrell, published on July 1, 2000 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015
Does eating chicken before a baseball game improve batting? Wade
Boggs, one of baseball history's best hitters, believed it did: He ate
chicken daily for over 20 years.
It may seem silly, but millions of people worldwide perform similar
rituals for luck. In his newly updated book, Believing in Magic (Oxford
University Press, 2000), Stuart A. Vyse, Ph.D., a psychology professor at
Connecticut College, investigates why so many rational people believe so
strongly in things that seem so irrational.
"We face many important and uncertain challenges, and superstition
provides the illusion of control when it's lacking," Vyse says.
Practicing superstition can be psychologically beneficial. "Superstitious
rituals can reduce tension and give a sense that you're doing what you
can to help out," he says.
Most superstitions are harmless, but Vyse notes that some have
serious consequences. Superstitious beliefs about luck may prolong
problem gambling, and belief in alternative medical techniques over
traditional treatment can lead to grave illness.
Still, superstition is basically healthy, and some of the world's
most talented people are also the most superstitious: Hockey legend Wayne
Gretzky habitually tucked the right side of his jersey behind his hip
pads for luck before every game.