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Superstitious students do worse on tests

Saturday, 5 August 2000 13:14 (ET)

Superstitious students do worse on tests
By ED SUSMAN, UPI Science News

 WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- Students who grow up believing in
superstitions and other beliefs in the paranormal perform worse on
standardized tests than their peers who don't hold such beliefs.  "If you
believe that black cats are bad luck, and broken mirrors cause bad luck-if
you believe that stuff-you are likely not to score as well as others on SAT
and other tests," said Michael Sonntag, assistant professor of psychology at
Lander University, Greenwood, SC.

 However, Sonntag said students who believed in the possibility of
extraterrestrial or extraordinary life forms tended to score higher on SATs
and had higher grade point averages than the students who didn't believe in
paranormal abilities or events.

 "Belief in the possibility of extraordinary life forms or ETs is not
necessarily a violation of the physical laws of science," Sonntag said,
suggesting that other paranormal beliefs skew a child's knowledge base and
might affect scholastic testing.

 Sonntag interviewed 482 undergraduate students at a state-supported
university in the Southeast, about two-thirds of whom were women;
three-fourths of the students identified themselves as white, about one
fifth were African American. The students provided their high school
academic records and underwent an interview which determined scores on a
standard scale concerning paranormal beliefs-including traditional religious
beliefs, ability to read minds, belief in witchcraft, belief in
superstition, spiritualism, precognition and belief in extraordinary life

 "What stands out," Sonntag said, "is that students who believed in
superstition scored significantly lower on their verbal SAT scores, on their
math SAT scores, on their grade point average, on their high school rank.
They also scored lower than other students in math and sciences, in the
humanities and in business courses."

 Student scores in other areas of paranormal belief also suffered, but not
as extensively as those who had strong superstition beliefs, Sonntag
reported at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in

 "Taken together, these results suggest that students who exhibit a belief
that simple forces outside of their control tend to guide or shape their
behavior may be prone to poorer academic performance," he said.  However, he
said that virtually across the board, student who believed in ET and other
extraordinary life forms, did better academically.

 Sonntag said some people have criticized the standardized test of
paranormal beliefs for including the ET questions; he said his study
suggests that those criticisms may be on the mark.  He also noted despite
increased education, the paranormal beliefs persist. "It seem that most
paranormal beliefs are relatively immune to the critical reasoning skills
taught in the academy," he said.

Copyright 2000 by United Press International.
All rights reserved.

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