If your best ear burns, someone is talking excellent around you. If your left ear burns, someone is talking ill of you.

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This is just one of the thousands of superstitions that Fletcher Dresslar records in his 1907 book,Superstition and also Education. He elicited them from students in California sindicate by handing out empty pieces of paper and asking them to write dvery own all the superstitions they might think of. Dresslar describes his job as "an effort to peep into that darkly veiled yet interesting psychological realm which holds the ideal preserved remnants of our psychic evolution" (pg. 2).

In taking stock of his colorful catalogue,Dresslar couldn"t assist but notice some fads. For one,those superstitions that stated the left side of the body—whether the ear, foot, or hand—tended to be dark and also foreboding; the ones pointing out the right side were downright cheery.The quantitative information he reports present this asymmetry rather clearly:


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The percentperiods of superstitions mentioning left (n= 275)or right (n= 274)sides of the body that foretell poor or good fortune. Data from Dresslar (1907).


Dresslar characteristics this pronounced pattern to "a well developed predisposition of mind, though for the the majority of component an unmindful one" (pg. 205). His explanation, now even more than a century old,basically holds up.The predisposition he defines has recently been stupassed away in some detail, many notably by Daniel Casasanto, and it is rooted in a straightforward fact: we experience the human being more fluently via one side of our body than with the other. This suffer of differential fluency offers climb to positive associations with our leading side—for most of us, the right—and also negative associations through our non-leading side—for many of us, the left.

If such associations are indeed "unconscious," this prompts a question: How carry out they become enshrined in our superstitions? Part of the answer most likely lies in the nature of cultural transmission. As bits of language and idea gain passed from perchild to perboy,and from one generation to the following,the fidelity is far from perfect. Bits that concreate to our cognitive biases will be even more likely to be remembered and also recurring, while those that don’t will be forgotten or flubbed. Or,as Dresslar puts it: "Other things being equal, those which are ideal adjusted to the retentive and refertile powers of the mind will certainly make it through longest and concerned the surconfront most frequently" (pg. 209). This type of explanation is powerful and also incredibly much in vogue, and it can be applied to even more than just superstitions. Folk tales, proverbs, nursery rhymes, myths,and also idioms—all are products of long chains of transmission and all bear the fingerprints of the minds that have passed them on.


Notes

1. With a nod to Rebecca Onion, whose short article on Slate is where I learned of Dresslar"s book.

2. Permit me to allude out that the digitized version of Dresslar"s book I attach to belonged to William James.

3. Amongst the other fads that Dresslar explains is the reality that odd numbers are much more widespread in superstitions than one would mean by opportunity (check out pgs. 195-204).

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4. Another area this "predisposition of mind" reflects up is in the lexicon, as is well recorded. Countmuch less langueras associate leftwith notions choose “clumsy”, “sinister”, and “untrustworthy” and rightvia skill, luck, propriety, and also so on. For countless examples and also conversation, view "Biased semantics for ideal and also left in 50 Indo-European and also non-Indo-European languages" (abstract).