Stress makes ”people believe more in superstitions”

October 3rd, 2008 - 11:52 am ICT by ANI  

Washington, Oct 3 (ANI): Stress makes people believe more in conspiracy theories and superstitions, a new research has found.
Scientists reckon that people who lack control over their life have a bigger urge to impose order and structure on the world through rituals and conspiracy theories.
The research finds that a quest for structure or understanding leads people to trick themselves into seeing and believing connections that simply don”t exist.
The research was done by Adam Galinsky, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., in collaboration with lead author Jennifer Whitson, an assistant professor at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin.
Through a series of six experiments, the researchers showed that individuals who lacked control were more likely to see images that did not exist, perceive conspiracies, and develop superstitions.
“The less control people have over their lives, the more likely they are to try and regain control through mental gymnastics. Feelings of control are so important to people that a lack of control is inherently threatening. While some misperceptions can be bad or lead one astray, they”re extremely common and most likely satisfy a deep and enduring psychological need,” said Galinsky.
According to Whitson, that psychological need is for control, and the ability to minimize uncertainty and predict beneficial courses of action. In situations where one has little control, the researchers proposed that an individual may believe that mysterious, unseen mechanisms are secretly at work.
To test their theory, the researchers asked half of a group of volunteers to remember a situation when they felt a lack of control, such as a car crash, when a close family member had been ill or when they had felt under threat.
They then conducted a series of experiments, including asking the participants if they saw images in “snowy” pictures made up of dots.
Half of the pictures contained dots arranged randomly, while the other half made up faintly recognizable pictures, such as a chair, a boat or a planet.
While the volunteers saw 95 percent of the hidden images, the group under pressure also “saw” images in 43 percent in the random dots.
They were also more likely to believe in superstitions like having “lucky” socks, the scientists found.
More sinisterly, they also saw more conspiracy theories behind imagined scenarios, such as why an employee had been passed over for promotion.
The scientists believe that the findings show that people trick themselves into seeing or believing things that are not real because of a search for structure to their lives.
“People see false patterns in all types of data, imagining trends in stock markets, seeing faces in static, and detecting conspiracies between acquaintances. This suggests that lacking control leads to a visceral need for order - even imaginary order,” said Whitson.
Volunteers who were made to feel more secure about their lives were less likely to fall back on superstition and conspiracy, the study found.
“It’’s exciting - restoring people’’s sense of control normalized their perceptions and behavior,” said Galinsky.
The study has been published in the journal Science. (ANI)

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