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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 11 March, 2003, 14:48 GMT
Are the British becoming more superstitious?
Psychologist Richard Wiseman is finding out how superstitious Britain is through an online survey with the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

The survey takes place during National Science Week and attempts to understand which people tend to be more superstitious and whether this is linked to a need to control the uncontrollable.

"Most people engage in at least some type of superstitious behaviour, even if it is just saying 'Touch wood' or 'Fingers crossed'," said Dr Wiseman, "but it will be fascinating to discover the true extent and depth of these beliefs."

Do you have your own lucky charm? Is Britain a superstitious nation? Are there regional variations? Have current world events made people more superstitious? Tell us what you think.


This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction:

I always touch wood after tempting fate and say "bless you" when someone sneezes. I don't sing Christmas carols when it's not Christmas because in my area it's considered bad luck. I also always break the bottoms of eggshells - another local superstition. My parents always try to keep the curtains open in daylight because when they were young curtains closed in the day were a sign that someone had died in the house. I have become more superstitious, maybe because the world is such an uncertain place and the superstitions are reassuring in a way.
Sarah, UK

In times like these when diplomacy and reason don't seem to work, all we have left are the good luck charms and the superstitions.
John, England

Maybe superstitions are a way of trying to make sense of the world in the absence of a religious faith
John, UK
GK Chesterton said that when people lost faith in God, they didn't start believing in "nothing", rather they started believing in "anything". Maybe superstitions are a way of trying to make sense of the world in the absence of a religious faith?
John, UK

What is superstition? I do not regard myself as superstitious - indeed I am quite aggressively anti-superstition. However, I am also deeply religious, being a lay minister in the Church of England. Some of your correspondents would say that by definition I was superstitious - I would deny this! My defence is that my religion is based on events that in principle either happened or didn't, and in the experience of millions who have found that it lives up to its claims.
Paul Cooper, UK

Some people are just innately lazy. And omnipotent beings, black cats and quackery are easier on the brain than evolution, statistics and medicine. I doubt the overall number of these lazy minds has changed - but the choice of easy ways out definitely has. A bottle of massively diluted lemsip is probably worth more than a bottle of holy water nowadays.
Sam, UK

Just saying "touch wood" or "fingers crossed" from time to time does not necessarily make a person superstitious. They might simply be joking or saying it out of habit, but still feel sure that it will have absolutely no effect on the future. People do a lot of things, but we need to question more carefully what conclusions we can draw from their behaviour. It seems Dr Wiseman is lacking some scientific precision here. I would question the whole concept of "superstitious behaviour". It is not the behaviour that is superstitious it is the beliefs that may (or may not) lie behind them.
Brad, UK

I have a science degree so I should dismiss it all as garbage but I don't
Jane N, U.K
I would say I am not superstitious but I won't put an umbrella up in the house or put shoes on a table just in case. I don't follow my daily horoscopes word for word but I read them every day just to check and I have Tarot cards which I consult every now and then (particularly when the love life is lagging). I have a science degree so I should dismiss it all as garbage but I don't and I believe in ghosts - so there, I am superstitious (maybe)
Jane N, U.K

As a Wiccan I obviously have my own views on superstition, but yes I do feel that people are getting more superstitious. I have noticed a lot of people wearing charm bracelets and crystals for various reasons. I think that superstition is becoming more widespread due to media coverage of the unusual, and films etc.
Louise Lench, UK

It's often the case that people have superstitions, be they personal or widely known. Some people are known for making mockery of common ones. I know people who tap each other's heads when they 'touch wood'. With current events the way they are, and the history of Britain, even when Christianity took over in the past, people kept their little superstitions, I think it unlikely that people will totally cast these away. Then there are people who defy them. I myself take great delight in prancing under ladders with my friends, and so be it if I attract bad luck. It was probably the mirror I broke seven years ago, in any case.
Rosamund, UK

We may be able to shake superstitious beliefs off for good
Mike, UK
Humans have evolved over tens of thousands of years, and for just about all of that time we have had no science to base our beliefs on, so is it any wonder that millennia of belief in powers beyond our comprehension still have some hold over us? Give it another few tens of thousands of years of civilisation and we may be able to shake superstitious beliefs off for good.
Mike, UK

A nation that has an established church that believes in virgin birth, the Holy Spirit, the Devil... how much more superstition can one take? Most superstitions (such as knocking on wood) are remnants of extinct religions (in this case animism). I look forward to the day when there are no religions, then we will have to take responsibility for ourselves, and end our obsessions with "just wars" and other excuses for man's inhumanity to man. (Touch wood?)
Doug Allchin, Belgium (British expat)

I have a habit of saluting magpies. I would hardly call it a superstition though. It just winds up my girlfriend. Bargain.
Toby, UK

Superstition must have come from some logical reason
Richard, Miri, Malaysiae
While I do not religiously adhere to superstition, I will not blatantly ignore it either. Superstition must have come from some logical reason. Just because we do not know this reason, it does not mean the reason is not valid. Admittedly, crossing under a ladder IS very dangerous!
Richard, Miri, Malaysia

Just ask people how they get their lucky numbers when they play lottery or gamble. Almost everyone believes in certain lucky or unlucky numbers. If this is not superstition, what is it?
Agha Ata, USA

As a casual quantum physics fan I've correlated a three-year "trauma-drama" cycle with the major ups and downs in my life. Lastly, I found a bizarre clustering of the number 13 during my last "high" cycle - so now I associate the number 13 with good luck. Other than that I'm just your average computer scientist.
Ron P, US

I hope people realise that filling in online discussion forums is incredibly bad luck.
Martin, UK

There's more to humans than we are able to comprehend. After all, half of our brain isn't used so what's the other half for? It would be foolish to cast doubt on what we don't yet know.
Alex T, UK

Lack of knowledge leaves them vulnerable to con artists and superstition
BD, USA, ex-UK
Unfortunately, many countries do not have compulsory science requirements for students beyond the simplest stages. Since science is considered to be hard and boring the result is a culture of people who have little knowledge in science and their lack of knowledge leaves them vulnerable to con artists and superstition which is used to fill the void.
BD, USA, ex-UK

This is an unscientific age. Humans have discovered so much about the world that one person cannot hope to comprehend all that information completely. Where there are gaps in an individual's knowledge superstition flows in to provide some form of security. The phrase "I don't know" is terrifying to some and superstition, though not ideal, allows them to feel more comfortable.
Ben, USA, Ex UK

How supposedly sane people can think that it matters whether a black cat crosses their path, breaking a mirror means seven years bad luck, or whichever bizarre belief is beyond me. I wish people would grow out of these useless superstitions. Read The Demon-haunted World by Carl Sagan.
Sara, UK

If something nasty happens on the way home we'll know won't we?
Natalie, UK
Oh no, I walked under a ladder earlier, and I've only just realised, well if something nasty happens on the way home we'll know won't we..?
Natalie, UK

My new year's resolution was to give up all my superstitions - but it's been a struggle! The automatic impulse to 'touch wood' after 'tempting fate' was so strong that it took real effort not to do it. I've never believed that superstitions made my life better, but there's always a nagging doubt that perhaps they stop it getting worse.
Josephine, UK

My parents once told me it was unlucky to ask for a birthday present more than three times - or else, by some magical means, the whole world would forget it was my birthday. They kept that one going right up until I was 30!
Dave, UK

I am not superstitious - we Geminis are very sceptical about that sort of thing.
Tony, UK

Oh the irony - people that believe in star signs telling us they're not superstitious! *Tee hee*
Dave H, England

Being superstitious, I wouldn't like to say.
KC, UK

Aren't we all slightly superstitious even though we deny it?!
David Jones, England

I don't believe any superstitions - including religion of any kind - but I remember meeting someone in Australia who managed to simultaneously be a practising Catholic and believe in both ghosts and reincarnation. All told, quite a feat of credulity - but most superstitious people hold similarly contradictory beliefs.
Jason, UK

I don't believe in superstition - but then I'm a Gemini, and that is typical of a Gemini. I ought to say that my vicar agrees with me on this.
Richard Johnson, UK

I almost always wear my Egyptian cat pendant
Ned O'Brien, UK
When I've bought a new car I have always bought a charm of some sort to put in it. These have ranged from beanie dogs to a smiley face window sticker to a little dragon on the dash. Personally I almost always wear my Egyptian cat pendant. We are, as a whole, a superstitious nation. Whether this is to try to control the uncontrollable or a habit from years gone by is unclear.
Ned O'Brien, UK

When the "George and Tony Show" reaches Iraq we're all going to be a little more careful and the sayings "touch wood" etc are going to be heard a lot, lot more.
Doug, USA ex-UK

I'll never become superstitious, touch wood.
Will, UK

Legacy of my RC upbringing - I always cross myself before going out first thing in the morning.
MC, UK

I don't know about superstitious, but we are a nation not at peace with itself, hence the rush to old religions, mumbo jumbo and anything else that looks like it could take the strain off of us.
Gerry, Scotland

If superstition is defined as unproven belief in forces that shape your well-being, there has been a clear decline in the traditional fears of black cats, spilled salt and luck-bringing behaviour such as wood touching and organised religion. These, however, have been replaced by irrational fears of E numbers and GM products together with faith in exclusion diets and alternative therapies. So no increase in superstitions - just a makeover really.
Rob, UK




SEE ALSO:
UK labs go on the road
07 Mar 03 |  Science/Nature
How to be lucky
03 Jan 03 |  Health


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