I've recently been arguing that cultural evolution is driven by anxiety, by uncertainty That is, over the long term, and in the aggregate, that is what motivates the creation and adoption of new cultural patterns. Medical Express reports a recent study demonstrating the role of uncertainty in superstition:
I note that "performance anxiety" is a well-known phenomenon.It might be a lucky pair of socks, or a piece of jewelry; whatever the item, many people turn to a superstition or lucky charm to help achieve a goal. For instance, you used a specific avatar to win a game and now you see that avatar as lucky. Superstitions are most likely to occur under high levels of uncertainty. Eric Hamerman at Tulane University and Carey Morewedge at Boston University have determined that people are more likely to turn to superstitions to achieve a performance goal versus a learning goal... Performance goals are when people try to be judged as successful by other people. "For example, if I'm a musician, I want people to applaud after I play. Or if I'm a student, I want to get a good grade," explains lead author Eric Hamerman. Performance goals tend to be extrinsically motivated, and are perceived to be susceptible to influence from outside forces. Learning goals are often judged internally. "For example, a musician wants to become competent as a guitar player and perceive that he/she has mastered a piece of music," Hamerman says. Since learning goals are intrinsically motivated, this leads to a perception that they are also internally controlled and less likely to be impacted by outside forces.