Learn more about habits with this collection
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The role of biases in decision-making
The impact of social norms on decision-making
Why do successful people follow such eccentrically specific habits? And why are we so keen to read about them and mimic them in our own lives?
The answer lies in a powerful psychological process called ‘superstitious learning’. The brain is constantly looking for associations between two events. While it is mostly correct, it sometimes mistakes coincidence for causality – leading us to attribute success to something as arbitrary as the colour of our notebook or the number of beans in our brew, rather than our own talent or hard work.
By giving us a sense of self-determination, the adoption of rituals – including the completely random behaviours that we have learnt ourselves or borrowed from those we admire – can help us to overcome anxiety, and may even bring about a noticeable boost in performance.
When we hear of others' triumphs, we often end up copying their habits, too, including the arbitrary rituals that they had acquired through superstitious learning - a phenomenon known as 'over-imitation'.
Superstition is a kind of maladaptive behaviour that arises from what is normally a very good thing - the ability of the brain to predict.
It seems that the brain is constantly looking for associations between our behaviour, our environment and the rewards that we seek - and quite often, it can come to the wrong conclusions.
If superstitious behaviours arise as a by-product of our ability to form associations, then you would expect more superstitious people to perform better on this task.
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