Would you wear a serial killer’s cardigan?
Press release issued: 11 May 2009
Most of us would shirk from wearing a serial killer's cardigan, but why? According to Professor Bruce Hood many believe that the garment is contaminated, as if that person's evil 'essence' would rub off on us. This is because we have what he calls a 'supersense', or a belief that there are energies, patterns, forces and entities operating in the world that are categorically denied by science.
Most of us would shirk from wearing a serial killer's cardigan, but why?
According to Professor Bruce Hood many believe that the garment is contaminated, as if that person's evil 'essence' would rub off on us. This is because we have what he calls a 'supersense', or a belief that there are energies, patterns, forces and entities operating in the world that are categorically denied by science.
In his new book, SuperSense: From Superstition to Religion – the Brain Science of Belief, which was previewed in Saturday's Guardian, Professor Hood explores where such beliefs come from.
Most of us recognize traditional superstitious customs such as crossing our fingers or knocking on wood. David Beckham only has an even number of drinks cans in his fridge. Tony Blair always wore the same shoes during Prime Minister's Question Time and Barack Obama played basketball on the morning of every election. However, Hood argues that such beliefs and practices are the norm and not the exception. In a US Gallop poll of 1,000 adults conducted in 2005, 73 per cent said they believed in at least one supernatural phenomenon, ranging from extrasensory perception (ESP) to ghosts, telepathy and reincarnation.
Where do such beliefs come from? One might assume that we get our beliefs from others but according to Hood, who is Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University, many supernatural beliefs have their origins in the way that children spontaneously think about the world.
As children, he argues, we generate knowledge through intuitive reasoning about the world around us, which leads to both natural and supernatural beliefs. With scientific education we learn that supernatural beliefs are irrational but because they operate at an intuitive level they can either be resistant to reason or lie dormant in otherwise rational adults.
If Hood is correct, then it is unlikely that any effort to get rid of supernatural beliefs, or the superstitious behaviours that accompany them, will be ultimately successful. Moreover, he argues, these beliefs may be adaptive in binding us together as social groups even when some collective beliefs are used to ostracize and persecute non-believers.
According to Professor Hood:'We are pre-wired with a mind design that creates a 'supersense' that shapes our intuitions and superstitions and is essential to the way we learn to understand the world.'