If your appropriate ear burns, someone is talking great about you. If your left ear burns, someone is talking ill of you.

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This is one of the hundreds of superstitions that Fletcher Dresslar records in his 1907 book,Superstition and also Education. He elicited them from students in California ssuggest by handing out empty pieces of paper and asking them to write down all the superstitions they could think of. Dresslar describes his project as "an effort to peep into that darkly veiled however amazing mental realm which holds the best kept remnants of our psychic evolution" (pg. 2).

In taking stock of his colorful catalogue,Dresslar couldn"t aid however notice some trends. For one,those superstitions that discussed the left side of the body—whether the ear, foot, or hand—tfinished to be dark and also foreboding; the ones pointing out the right side were downbest cheery.The quantitative information he reports present this asymmetry fairly clearly:

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The percentages of superstitions mentioning left (n= 275)or right (n= 274)sides of the body that foretell negative or excellent fortune. Documents from Dresslar (1907).

Dresslar attributes this pronounced pattern to "a well developed bias of mind, though for the most component an unaware one" (pg. 205). His explacountry, currently even more than a century old,basically holds up.The prejudice he defines has actually freshly been studied in some detail, many notably by Daniel Casasanto, and it is rooted in a straightforward fact: we suffer the human being more fluently through one side of our body than with the various other. This endure of differential fluency provides rise to positive associations with our leading side—for most of us, the right—and negative associations via our non-dominant side—for many of us, the left.

If such associations are indeed "unconscious," this prompts a question: How perform they become enshrined in our superstitions? Part of the answer likely lies in the nature of cultural transmission. As bits of language and also idea gain passed from perkid to perchild,and also from one generation to the following,the fidelity is far from perfect. Bits that condevelop to our cognitive biases will be more most likely to be remembered and repeated, while those that don’t will certainly be forgained or flubbed. Or,as Dresslar puts it: "Other things being equal, those which are ideal readjusted to the retentive and refertile powers of the mind will make it through longest and involved the surface most frequently" (pg. 209). This sort of explacountry is powerful and also exceptionally a lot in vogue, and also it can be applied to more than simply superstitions. Folk tales, proverbs, nursery rhymes, myths,and idioms—all are products of lengthy chains of transmission and also all bear the fingerprints of the minds that have actually passed them on.

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

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

3. Amongst the other trends that Dresslar explains is the fact that odd numbers are much even more prevalent in superstitions than one would expect by chance (see pgs. 195-204).

4. Another place this "prejudice of mind" shows up is in the lexsymbol, as is well documented. Countmuch less langueras associate leftvia notions prefer “clumsy”, “sinister”, and “untrustworthy” and also rightvia skill, luck, propriety, and also so on. For many examples and conversation, watch "Biased semantics for ideal and also left in 50 Indo-European and also non-Indo-European languages" (abstract).