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The narrative fallacy: what it is and how it relates to superstition

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Human beings do not like not knowing why things happen, so we tend to seek and establish explanations that we believe to be true, even if they do not have scientific support.

Likewise, this mode of causal relationship also influences superstitious thinking and luck, since in these circumstances we observe how the individual establishes a connection between two events that really does not have a justification logic.

In this article we will explore a concept related to all this, the narrative fallacy, also explaining how useful it can be, what concepts are linked to it, and how this behavior is observed in animals.

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What is the narrative fallacy?

Simply put, the narrative fallacy is the innate tendency of humans toestablish causal relationships even if they are not objectively justified. The human being has a hard time and resists not knowing where it comes from or why such an event has happened, it is for this reason that it shows willingness to present stories that justify a fact and give meaning to the world even though there really is no logical reason to explain such belief.

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A concept closely linked to the narrative fallacy is patronage.; This is defined as the attempt to establish patterns, that is, to identify cause and effect that are repeated, to believe that an event always generates the same result.

It is important to know this tendency that we have, since, despite carrying it out innately, we should not value all our beliefs as true. Stop to think if it really makes sense and prevent these fallacies from having a negative impact on you. Thinking that you know or can know everything is not even true and sometimes this thought can make it difficult for us to continue progressing and knowing the truth.

Narrative Fallacy Examples
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The usefulness of the narrative fallacy

This tendency to look for causal relationships and establish patterns has helped people survive. In the face of a dangerous event, putting ourselves in the worst situation helps us prevent and act to avoid negative consequences, allows us to act in advance when we still do not know for sure what is going to happen. happen. Although it is true that this way of proceeding was above all functional before, in older times where the dangers that the human being could encounter were greater.

In that period, not establishing and not being guided by the narrative fallacy and patronage could mean your death. Currently, this provision it is more linked to the establishment of stories that we believe and with which we can confuse reality.

It has been observed that the creation of stories helps to better remember the facts, gives more emotion to the events and, therefore, makes the subject encode, store and retrieve it better. Let's see an example: it is not the same to say that "Pedro died because I cannot get over the fact that María left him" than simply to communicate that "Pedro died”, the first statement will be more likely to be remembered than the second, since we present a story and reveal a cause.

This strategy does not have to be negative, since the purpose is not to distort or change reality but to provide more information, be more specific, so that the message is better remembered. This technique is used in advertising, so that viewers remember the ad more easily, so when we want to sell a product we don't we show only the image of this but we build a story to represent how it is used and encourage advertising to be understood and remember better.

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His relationship with superstition

It has been observed that sometimes it is easy for superstitions to arise through the narrative fallacy. We understand by superstition a belief that, with explanations contrary to reason and more linked to a magical thinking, creates relationships without proof or scientific evidence to support it.

The purpose of such a belief is to justify an event, usually bad, with a cause that is really unrelated.

For example, there are popular beliefs that it is not good to go under a ladder, that a black cat or breaking a mirror, as these events tend to be linked with events negatives. Actually the relationship is not true nor does it make sense scientifically speaking, but society generates these thoughts to find meaning and provide an explanation, however illogical, to a negative event. They prefer to believe this than not knowing the reason for the events.

These magical beliefs can be harmless, that is, they do not affect the individual's life, but if they are constantly repeated, represent a great waste of time or affect the functionality of the subject, yes they can cause a problem, which he will need to intervention. The subject comes to really believe the superstitious explanations and can have a really bad time when something related to them happens to him.

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The explanation of luck

We also see how this inclination to establish causal relationships between an unimportant fact and an effect occurs in the belief in luck. There really are events for which we cannot find an explanation or they may have more than one; in these circumstances the subject with the intention of making sense of episodes of his life and being able to predict future events poses cause-effect connections without these having a rational explanation.

For example, a student may believe that one of his pens brings him luck, since since he has used it he has not failed any exam. This thought is not negative if the subject continues studying and preparing for the tests, although can be dysfunctional if the individual mistakenly believes that not preparing and studying the pen will make them pass.

With this example we mean that as long as believing in luck does not modify or conditions our way of acting, it can be innocuous for the person, but when the conviction already affects his behavior, letting himself be carried away by it and influencing his decisions, it can be dysfunctional

Another factor linked to luck is chance, understood as a set of unknown causes that give rise to an unpredictable result. This event is studied in mathematics with the theory of probability. Let us therefore see how luck and chance would explain the same event.

Let's imagine having a cube with three dice, the game consists of throwing the dice and winning if they all come out even. If we try to justify the result by chance, by the theory of probability, winning or not winning have the same probability. Regardless of how many times we roll or how we do it, the percentage chance of success is always the same on each roll and the same as the to lose

Instead, luck, in the example above, links winning or losing to causes that are not really logical or do not influence probability, since as we have seen this cannot change, the subject will believe that he has won because he is wearing a red jacket that brings him luck or because before throwing the dice has blown them or will attribute any loss to not having counted to three or not having rolled the dice with the hand left.

  • Related article: "Cognition: definition, main processes and functioning"

Superstitious behavior in animals

As with other behaviors that have similar characteristics between humans and other animals, in the case of superstitions we also observe them in these beings not so different from us. the famous psychologist Burrhus Frederic SkinnerHe, known for his experiments and for the operant conditioning approach, he observed that pigeons also showed superstitious behavior.

The experiment consisted of implementing an operant conditioning to the pigeons where every time they touched a button with their beak they were given food, once the learning was done The researcher changed the way of getting the food and let it be administered to the pigeon according to a random method, that is, receiving food or not was independent of what the doe did. animal.

Thus, it was surprising to observe that if the pigeon made a gesture, for example raising a leg, and this action coincided with the administration of food the animal stayed with this event and if later it did it again and by chance it was given food of new the gesture was reinforced and linked to the food. It was observed how the pigeon then continuously presented this behavior acting as if it were the cause of receiving food, this event was called by Skinner as superstitious behavior.
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