Stories tagged reflexive thinking

May
14
2008

Let a smile be your umbrella, and you’ll get a mouth full of rain.: Better safe than sorry, doncha’ know.
Let a smile be your umbrella, and you’ll get a mouth full of rain.: Better safe than sorry, doncha’ know.Courtesy Christiane Michaud

Up is down. Black is white. Ignorance is double-plus ungood. But a new study shows why this one actually makes a bit of sense.

Professors at Cornell University had groups of students read various different stories. In some, a character acts prudently; in others, the character tempts fate – for instance, failing to bring an umbrella when there’s rain in the forecast. The stories end with something bad happening – it rains – and the students were asked whether or not the conclusion made sense.

The correct answer is “yes,” no matter which story a student reads. But those who read about the person tempting fate responded more quickly.

The professors call this reflexive thinking. An action which “tempts fate” causes out minds, by reflex, to think of the negative possibilities. And while there is no connection between carrying an umbrella and “making” it rain, the superstition does have several benefits:

  • By focusing our attention on the possible negative outcome, we are ready for it and better able to respond.
  • The actions used to ward off the negative outcome – such as carrying an umbrella to “prevent” rain – often leave us better prepared in the event of the bad thing actually happening.

No word on how this relates to horseshoes and rabbit’s feet.