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Where do superstitions come from? - Stuart Vyse

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Are you afraid of black cats? Would you open an umbrella indoors? How do you feel about the number 13? Whether or not you believe in them, you’re probably familiar with a few of these superstitions. But where did they come from? Stuart Vyse shares the weird and specific origins of some of our favorite superstitions.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Stuart Vyse
  • Director Biljana Labovic
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Storyboard Artist Jérémie Balais, Jeff Le Bars
  • Animator Jeff Le Bars, Jérémie Balais
  • Sound Designer Clément Soulisse
  • Sound Mastering Rémi Lambrinidis
  • Associate Producer Jessica Ruby
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

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Additional Resources for you to Explore
Superstitions pass in and out of fashion, and new superstitions are invented every day. Sometimes it can be difficult to decide which beliefs are true and which are not. For example, astrology has been around for centuries, and many people throughout the world believe that their fates are determined by the constellations of stars in the sky at the time of their birth. Is astrology superstition or fact?

Learning how to think critically about the claims people make can help you separate the wheat from the chaff. A number of organizations promote critical thinking, and there are several online courses that introduce the basics of critical thinking. To determine whether any specific claim, idea, or belief is supported by evidence, consult The Skeptic’s Dictionary. Here is the Skeptic’s Dictionary entry on astrology.

Because there are so many diseases and medical conditions in need of effective treatment, unusual health claims are common. To check the validity of any medical claims you hear about, consult Quackwatch. Finally, if you hear unusual claims on the Internet or in the news media, such as the rumor that Bill Gates is giving people $5000 for sharing a page on Facebook, check Snopes.com.

As we have seen, culture and socialization are important sources of superstition. People from different areas of the world grow up learning superstitions that are local to their area. To learn about some unusual Korean superstitions (including the belief that if you sleep with a fan on at night, you will die), watch this TEDx video by Valencia High School student June Park from Placentia, CA. Park points to a number of psychological factors that promote and maintain these superstitions.

Because it is such a pervasive aspect of culture throughout the world, superstition is frequently reflected in the arts. Legendary American blues singer and composer Willie Dixon wrote the song “I Ain’t Superstitious,” which was later popularized by British rockers Jeff Beck on guitar and Rod Stewart on vocals. Perhaps the most famous example from popular music is Stevie Wonder’s song Superstition, which was a number one single in the United States in 1973. Since the first installment in 1980, the Friday the 13th horror movie franchise has produced a dozen installments, all of which are widely shown during the Halloween season.

Although it may seem irrational to believe in superstition, some of the same traits that make humans so clever also make us susceptible to superstitions. To learn more about how people become superstitious, read the educator’s book Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition or Michael Shermer’s book, Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time.


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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animation lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Stuart Vyse
  • Director Biljana Labovic
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
  • Storyboard Artist Jérémie Balais, Jeff Le Bars
  • Animator Jeff Le Bars, Jérémie Balais
  • Sound Designer Clément Soulisse
  • Sound Mastering Rémi Lambrinidis
  • Associate Producer Jessica Ruby
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

Share

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