Am I superstitious?

Yesterday I wrote an exam. Part of the preparation for the exam started last week when I was in the local supermarket and I bought Lucozade Energy. The reason for buying it went along these lines:

  • I needed a drink and a pick-me-up immediately before the exam so that I wouldn’t get thirsty or tired during the 2-3 hour session.
  • Waiting in the hot carpark before the exam is thirsty work and I get very tired when the sun relentlessly beats down on me.
  • I usually don’t buy Lucozade but over the past four years I bought Lucozade specifically to have it before exam sessions and it has become a tradition of sorts.
  • I really don’t specifically need Lucozade, but I didn’t choose to try something else.

All of these thoughts happened while I was staring at the shelves of energy drinks, so I didn’t enter the decision lightly, it was not a knee-jerk reaction.

However, on the morning of the exam, while I was driving to the venue I realised that I had left the drink behind. I began to wonder if it would affect me during the exam. Would I be thinking about it and thus distracting myself from the task at hand? Would I begin to worry about it for no reason?

The answer is no, I did not think about the drink at all during the exam. I did regret leaving it at home while I was sitting in the hot carpark (frantically revising stuff I had never read before). The exam itself did not go well. However, I am not prepared to blame the lack of Lucozade for my dismal performance, rather my lack of preparation was my downfall.

However, for my remaining exams I will continue the tradition of taking the Lucozade Energy before the exam and I will probably buy it again next year. Does this make me superstitious? Please vote and leave comments below.

Now that you have recorded your feedback (right?), consider the points put forward by Richard Dawkins in the excellent video Slaves to Superstition (part of the Enemies of Reason series which is also available in DVD box sets).  I found the portion of the video I was thinking about when I wrote this post.  The entire episode is available on YouTube, and I would recommend that if you enjoyed it, you should buy the DVD to support the RDF, there are brilliant insights in all of his DVDs.  The portion of this clip I am referring to starts at approximately 6:00 and deals with the experiment conducted by B.F. Skinner, a Behavioural Psychologist (one of the pioneers of the science) who discovered many interesting things about behaviour and reward and almost stumbled upon the fact that superstition isn’t only a human trait and superstition may have served as an evolutionary advantage in most living animals.

~ by James on 17 October 2008.

8 Responses to “Am I superstitious?”

  1. Hahahahaha, I can relate – I always make sure I have a certain make of pen when I write my exams, with 3 or 4 replacements for “just in case”.:D

  2. Maybe 3 or 4 replacements is a bit excessive, but do you think it would affect you if you forgot to take more than 2 pens?

  3. Perhaps it is, and no it wouldn’t affect my exam – once I start writing I forget everything else and focus on the exam, that’s if I know the answers to the questions.:(

    But I’m like that in most things I do, I think of all the things that could possibly go wrong and have a plan b, plan c and a plan d ready. 😉

  4. It sounds like you are making sure that you are well prepared. I don’t think it is superstition (in your case) at all. I know that I don’t need Lucozade (you do need pens), but I still buy it.

    P.S. I updated the post with a Richard Dawkins video. I would be interested to see if this changes anything you thought about superstition.

  5. Seriously though, although I don’t believe in any superstitions – perhaps it’s the ritual of it (like your lucozade before the exam) that provides us with some familiarity and comfort. It’s like the rituals that some sportsmen/sportswomen go through before a match (like putting on the left shoe first, etc.). We hope that by repeating the same ritual, it will bring us the same success we had before – even though we know that it doesn’t have any direct affect on the performance itself. If it did, then that would be classified as some sort of disorder, wouldn’t it?
    Does that make sense?

  6. I think that the important point you made is that

    we know that it doesn’t have any direct affect on the performance itself.

    You would be surprised at the number of sports men and women who really do believe there is some effect from the ritual. I remember an interview on TV with Herschelle Gibbs and his pre-match rituals. I was gobsmacked at the sheer innanity of the rituals he performed and not once did he even flinch in discussing the rituals, it was as if it was as important as net sessions or warmup matches – just part of the game. This is superstition in its purest form.

  7. That didn’t show properly. In quoting you I wanted to bold the “WE” because we know it’s bunkum but it is not to some others.

  8. Took me ages to watch the clip, but it was worth the wait – Prof. Dawkins says it so much better than I could. Thanks for that, I’ll have to get the DVD to watch all of it. 🙂

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