Did superstitions develop to help mankind survive? Evolutionary biologist Kevin Foster of Harvard University and Hanna Kokko of the University of Helsinki thought so:
Darwin never warned against crossing black cats, walking under ladders or stepping on cracks in the pavement, but his theory of natural selection explains why people believe in such nonsense.
The tendency to falsely link cause to effect – a superstition – is occasionally beneficial, says Kevin Foster, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University.
For instance, a prehistoric human might associate rustling grass with the approach of a predator and hide. Most of the time, the wind will have caused the sound, but "if a group of lions is coming there’s a huge benefit to not being around," Foster says.
Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine explains:
"Our brains are pattern-recognition machines, connecting the dots and creating meaning out of the patterns that we think we see in nature. Sometimes A really is connected to B, and sometimes it is not," he says. "When it isn't, we err in thinking that it is, but for the most part this process isn't likely to remove us from the gene pool, and thus magical thinking will always be a part of the human condition."