You're on your way to school with a friend when a black cat crosses your path. "Great!" he moans, "Now we're definitely going to lose the basketball game tonight!" That evening, in the last few minutes of the game, he misses the winning shot. "See, I told you. Black cats bring bad luck."
The belief that black cats bring bad luck is a superstition. A superstition results when someone connects two independent events and believes that one influences the other. In reality, there's no connection between the odds of seeing a certain animal and the odds of losing a basketball game. So why do people mistake these independent events for dependent ones?
Psychologists say that human beings like patterns. In fact, they will see patterns where there are none. Patterns help us make sense of the world. They help our brain process information and allow us to feel like we're in control of random events. Superstitions develop when people think they see a pattern in past events. Then, something called confirmation bias comes into play: once you've decided that something is lucky or unlucky, you'll only remember the information that supports your view. Your friend forgets all the times he's seen a black cat and nothing bad has happened. But he'll always remember the time a black cat "made" him lose the big game.
Athletes are notorious for their superstitions. They develop special habits, eat certain foods on game days, and wear lucky socks or hats. However, some studies indicate that these lucky charms may in fact improve performance by helping athletes relax and feel confident. But when the athletes do perform well, they chalk it up to "good luck" instead of their positive mood.
Watch the videos below to learn more about superstitions and how they work.