People who believe that fate and chance control their lives are more likely to be superstitious, but when faced with death they are likely to abandon superstition altogether.

The researchers found 3 reasons for superstitious behavior: individuals use superstitions to gain control over uncertainty; to decrease feelings of helplessness; and because it is easier to rely on superstition instead of coping strategies. Psychologist Donald Saucier says, “People sometimes fall back on their superstitions as a handicap. It’s a parachute they think will help them out.” The team defined superstition as the belief in a casual relationship between an action, object, or ritual and an unrelated outcome. Such superstitious behavior can include actions like wearing a lucky jersey or using good luck charms. One of their major discoveries was that people who believe that chance and fate control their lives are more likely to be superstitious.

In the first study, the researchers conducted questionnaires with 200 undergraduates, asking about how pessimistic they were, whether they believed in chance or fate, if they liked to be in control and other questions. In the second study the researchers wanted to know how participants reacted to death, and asked them to write about how they felt about their own death. The team was surprised to find that participants’ levels of superstition went down when they thought about their own death, which the researchers attributed to death being a situation of extreme uncertainty.

Psychologist Scott Fluke says, “We theorized that when people thought about death, they would behave more superstitiously in an effort to gain a sense of control over it. What we didn’t expect was that thinking about death would make people feel helpless–like they cannot control it–and that this would actually REDUCE their superstitious belief.” Going into the study, the researchers assumed that people would have more superstitions about warding off death than about anything else.

Maybe this is because even superstitious people know death is inevitable, so they don’t bother to carry charms and talismans to ward it off.

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