Probing the Neural Basis of Superstition


Despite much evidence questioning its validity, superstitious belief continues to be rooted in the human mind. We used functional MRI to directly compare participants’ neural responses to monetary attractiveness with their responses to the value of an auspicious date. We found that the right middle/superior frontal gyrus showed greater deactivation whenever an auspicious-based choice was made and that the contrast between the auspicious-based and economics-based choices was negatively correlated with the participants’ rated wedding date-related superstitious belief, suggesting that a specific brain region carries decision signals which contribute to making decisions based on superstition and may be able to account for individual differences in superstitious behavior. The present investigation helps to reveal how the brain handles superstition.

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    We are indebted to the anonymous reviewers for their suggestion to provide this alternative explanation.


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This research was partially supported by the National Basic Research Program of China (973 Program, No. 2011CB711000), the Knowledge Innovation Project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (No. KSCX2-EW-J-8), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 31170976; 31300843), and the Special Fund for Beijing Key Discipline Construction. The authors thank Yun Wang for her assistance with fMRI data collection.

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Correspondence to Yuan Zhou or Shu Li.

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Li-Lin Rao and Yu zheng have contributed equally to this article.

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Rao, LL., Zheng, Y., Zhou, Y. et al. Probing the Neural Basis of Superstition. Brain Topogr 27, 766–770 (2014).

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  • Superstition
  • Lucky number
  • fMRI
  • Superstitious belief