Superstitions and Behavioral Economics

Superstitions and Behavioral Economics


Superstitions are beliefs that are not based on reason or evidence but are often deeply ingrained in cultures and societies. However, some may have originated from practical or logical reasons and have been passed down through generations. While they might seem “insane” at first glance, there could be some valid explanations or practical applications behind them.

Here are a few examples of seemingly insane superstitions that might have some reasonable basis:

  1. Knocking on wood: The myth of knocking on wood to avoid bad luck may have originated from ancient beliefs in tree spirits or the idea that benevolent forces lived in trees. It’s possible that the act of knocking on wood was a way to seek protection from these spirits.
  2. “Blessing” someone after they sneeze: The custom of saying “bless you” or similar phrases after someone sneezes can be traced back to the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages. Sneezing was one of the first symptoms of the disease, so saying a blessing was a way to protect the sneezer and show care during that dangerous time.
  3. Friday the 13th being unlucky: The fear of Friday the 13th is called “paraskevidekatriaphobia.” Its origin is unclear, but there are a few possible explanations. In Western cultures, the number 13 has been traditionally associated with bad luck. Additionally, in Christian tradition, it is believed that there were 13 individuals present at the Last Supper, with the 13th person being Judas, who betrayed Jesus.

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Insights on Superstitions from Past Studies

Superstition and behavioral economics are closely related fields of study that explore the influence of irrational beliefs, including superstitions, on economic decision-making. Behavioral economics integrates psychological insights into the traditional economic framework to better understand how people make choices and interact in economic contexts. Superstitions play a role in behavioral economics as they represent examples of cognitive biases and heuristics that affect decision-making processes.

Superstition and its impact on human behavior have been the subject of interest in various fields of study, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, and behavioral economics. Researchers (Vyse, 1997; Park, 2008; Shimp and Madden, 1988) have explored the origins, prevalence, and consequences of myths on individual decision-making and societal behavior. The literature (Walker, 1992; Tamminen and Knowles, 1997) highlights the ways in which irrational beliefs can influence decision-making and shape individual and collective actions, making it a fascinating area of research in the behavioral sciences.

It’s essential to remember that while these folktales might have some historical or cultural significance, there is no scientific evidence to support their effectiveness. They are primarily symbolic or cultural practices that have been carried on through generations. The history of old beliefs is intertwined with human culture and dates back to ancient times. They have been prevalent across various civilizations and continue to play a role in modern society. The roots may be traced to human beings’ attempts to understand and control their environment, as well as their desire to predict and influence the outcome of events.

Evolution of Superstition

Superstitions have deep historical roots, originating from prehistoric times when early humans sought to explain natural phenomena through supernatural forces. In ancient civilizations, superstitions were linked to religious beliefs, while the Middle Ages saw them firmly rooted in folklore and fear of evil. Cultural encounters and literature spread and shaped superstitions across societies. The Age of Enlightenment challenged superstitions with rational thinking, but they continue in modern times due to tradition and a desire for control. Superstitions persist in contemporary life, influencing rituals and customs during significant events and leaving their mark on popular culture. They reflect humanity’s quest for meaning amidst uncertainty.

Superstitions and Economics

Superstitions can have subtle yet notable effects on economics and financial decision-making, both at the individual and societal levels. While economic decisions are typically based on rationality and data, psychological factors, including superstitions, can play a role in shaping economic behavior. Here are some ways in which superstitions and economics intersect:

Investment Behavior:

Superstitions can influence investment decisions. For example, some investors might avoid certain stocks or industries because they believe they are “cursed” or associated with bad luck. Conversely, some investors might be drawn to stocks or investments they believe are lucky or have a positive association.

Gambling and Gaming:

In the context of gambling and gaming industries, superstitions play a significant role. Many gamblers have lucky rituals or habits they believe will enhance their chances of winning. Casino operators may also leverage superstitions to create an ambiance that encourages people to gamble more.

Lucky Numbers:

Certain numbers are considered lucky in different cultures, and this can impact economic decisions. In countries where certain numbers are perceived as lucky, people might prefer to make significant purchases or financial transactions on specific dates or with particular numbers.

Business Decisions:

Superstitions can influence business decisions, such as the timing of product launches, mergers, or acquisitions. Some companies might avoid launching new products or ventures during certain “unlucky” periods.

Real Estate:

In the real estate market, superstitions can influence property prices and demand. For instance, houses or buildings with certain superstitions attached to them, such as being haunted or cursed, might be perceived as less desirable and consequently sell at lower prices.

Economic Performance:

Societal superstitions can affect economic performance. For example, during specific cultural events or holidays, economic activity might increase or decrease due to traditional beliefs and practices associated with those times.

Economic Forecasting:

In some cases, superstitions might influence economic forecasting or predictions. For instance, some people may rely on astrological or other superstitious methods to make financial projections.

Sports and Entertainment:

Superstitions play a substantial role in the sports and entertainment industries. Athletes might have personal rituals they believe bring good luck, and fans may participate in superstitious behaviors to support their teams or favorite artists.


It’s essential to recognize that while superstitions can impact economic behavior, they are not based on empirical evidence or rational thinking. Instead, they stem from cultural beliefs and traditions. Economists and policymakers generally focus on analyzing data and making rational decisions to shape economic policies and outcomes. However, understanding the psychological influences, including superstitions, can provide insights into human behavior and decision-making in economic contexts.


Ms. Shreya Roy

Ms. Shreya Roy is the Founder and Director of Ecofunomics LLP. Alongside her role as an entrepreneur, she is a dedicated Ph.D. research scholar at the prestigious Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, focusing on the intersection of Artificial Intelligence and Foreign Trade. With 7 years of invaluable experience in research and teaching, she brings a wealth of knowledge to her endeavors.

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