Jahoda Psychology of Superstition – Freudian slip

Posted on July 10, 2007


Here is a fine quote from the Jahoda volume from the end of a chapter in which he goes through showing, among other things, the active nature of perception and memory:

If superstition is merely the result of error, be it of perception, memory or judgement, it ought to be relatively easy to correct. In fact, people hardly ever abandon such beliefs as a result of rational argument. If superstition were merely determined by social pressures, their removal ought to dispel superstition; this is sometimes true, but not invariably: there are people who cling tenaciously to their superstitions. It looks as though they had strong roots within the personality of the individual.

I think that Jahoda is spot on here and that this undermines all simplistic explanations of superstition – superstition is something that lies deeply within the human psyche. Unfortunately, the first place Jahoda goes looking is the Freudian subconscious. He has a whole chapter devoted to possible Freudian and Jungian explanations of the tenacity and prevalence of superstitious beliefs. Thankfully, unlike Marmor, who wrote the introduction to the book and was a Freudian, Jahoda’s tone is far more wary to Freud and Jung. I guess that the inclusion of the chapter is a sign of the times that the book was written in – at that stage of the development of psychology it would probably have been difficult not to include such a chapter, even if it did contain all the ‘buts’ and ‘ifs’  that Jahoda guards his observations with.