How Superstitions Influence Student Behavior: A Psychological Exploration

Kate Chered
5 min readDec 24, 2023


Superstitions have been a part of human culture for centuries, often providing a sense of control in unpredictable circumstances. This article delves into the psychological underpinnings of such beliefs, particularly in the context of academic success and exam preparation.

What is the Origin of Superstitions Surrounding Academic Success?

Superstitions in academia often stem from a deep-seated human need to find order in chaos. This need is amplified in the context of exams due to the high stress and uncertainty involved. Let’s explore some common superstitions and their possible origins.

The Closed Book Ritual may have its roots in the days when books were scarce and valuable. It was believed that leaving a book open in the sun could fade the ink, causing a loss of knowledge. This belief could also be a metaphor for the fear of losing hard-earned knowledge before an exam.

The Midnight Chant with the Grade Book is a ritual where students wave their grade book out of the window at midnight, tie it with a red ribbon, and keep it closed until the exam. This act symbolizes sealing one’s knowledge and luck within the book. It may have originated from a desire to ritualistically ‘lock in’ what has been learned.

Sleeping with Textbooks Under the Pillow is based on the belief that knowledge from the books will be absorbed during sleep. This superstition likely emerged when textbooks were rare commodities, treasured and kept close at hand, even during sleep. It’s a physical manifestation of the desire to internalize knowledge.

A Coin in the Shoe for Good Luck traces back to ancient traditions where coins were used as offerings to deities or as payment in the afterlife. Students placing a coin in their shoe might be unknowingly participating in a symbolic act of seeking divine favor or ‘paying’ for success.

Knots for Concentration and Luck involve students tying knots in a string and wearing it on their wrist. This practice likely stems from ancient beliefs in knots’ protective and focusing power, perhaps once used as mnemonic devices or as a form of early ‘cheat sheet’.

How Do Superstitions Psychologically Affect Students?

Superstitions offer a sense of control in an uncontrollable world. In the high-pressure environment of academia, where success is often uncertain, these beliefs can provide psychological comfort.

Reduction of Anxiety: Engaging in superstitious rituals can reduce anxiety by providing a sense of control over the uncontrollable, such as the outcome of an exam.

Enhancement of Confidence: Believing in the power of these rituals can boost confidence, a key factor in academic performance. The placebo effect of superstitions can lead to a more positive mindset, which is conducive to better performance.

Memory and Focus: Rituals involving physical objects or actions, like knots or coins, can serve as tactile reminders, aiding in concentration and memory retention.

Where Do We Draw the Line Between Superstition and Useful Rituals?

It’s crucial to distinguish between harmless superstitions and rituals that can positively impact study habits. Practices like organizing study materials or establishing a study routine, though not superstitious, can create a conducive learning environment.

Understanding the Placebo Effect: Recognizing that the power of these superstitions lies in the individual’s belief can help students use them as psychological tools rather than crutches.

Developing Healthy Study Habits: While engaging in superstitions, it’s vital to focus on developing effective study strategies. Time management, active learning techniques, and regular breaks are scientifically proven methods to enhance learning.

Balancing Beliefs with Reality: Students should balance superstitious beliefs with practical actions. While indulging in rituals for comfort is okay, relying solely on them can be detrimental.

In conclusion, while academic superstitions are rooted in historical and cultural contexts, their psychological impact on students is significant. They offer comfort and a sense of control, but balancing them with practical study methods and a realistic approach to academic challenges is important. By understanding the psychological basis of these beliefs, students can use them to their advantage, enhancing their academic experience without becoming dependent.


How Do Superstitions Reduce Exam-Related Anxiety?

Superstitions reduce exam-related anxiety by providing a sense of control in a high-pressure situation. When students engage in rituals like keeping a coin in their shoe or tying knots, it gives them a feeling of having some control over the unpredictable outcomes of exams. This sense of control can significantly alleviate anxiety and stress, allowing students to focus better on their preparations.

What is the Psychological Impact of Believing in Academic Superstitions?

Believing in academic superstitions can have a dual psychological impact. On the one hand, it can boost confidence and reduce anxiety, as students feel they are doing something positive to influence their exam outcomes. On the other hand, over-reliance on these beliefs can lead to neglecting effective study methods, potentially impacting academic performance. The key lies in balancing these beliefs and focusing on practical study strategies.

Where Did the Tradition of Sleeping with Books Under the Pillow Originate?

The tradition of sleeping with books under the pillow likely originated in times when textbooks were scarce and highly valued. Students who got a book would keep it close, even while sleeping, to protect and internalize the knowledge. This act has evolved into a superstition that the knowledge from the books would magically transfer to the student’s mind during sleep.

When Did Superstitions Begin to Play a Role in Academic Success?

Superstitions have likely been a part of academic life since the earliest days of structured education. As exams and academic assessments have always been high-stress situations with uncertain outcomes, superstitions emerged as a way for students to feel more in control. Their role in academic success has evolved, integrating cultural beliefs and practices.

To What Extent Should Students Rely on Superstitions for Exam Success?

Students should use superstitions as psychological tools for comfort and confidence rather than as a primary strategy for exam success. While these beliefs can reduce anxiety and boost morale, they should not replace effective study habits and preparation. Students must balance superstitious rituals with practical studying techniques to ensure the best academic outcomes.

Originally published at on December 24, 2023.