On Sberbank and Cat Lending

In order to capitalize on the mortgage boom in the country, the Russian Bank Sberbank is offering a cat for free to those who get a mortgage. There’s a catch though: the cat is limited to two hours for new homeowners. The Moscow Times reports:

The bank is offering a choice of 10 cats to mortgage-buyers, who will get the pet brought to their door by a new delivery service. According to a special website, KotoService.ru, the felines on offer include a ginger cat called “Apricot” and a hairless cat known as “Kuzya.”

The gimmick appears to be an attempt to maximize profits from Russia’s mortgage lending boom as people watch their savings lose value amid a sliding ruble and rising interest rates.

Here’s the video from Sberbank:

The whole reason for the gimmick? Capitalizing on the superstition that maintains that it is good luck if a cat is the first to enter a new home.

(via Foreign Policy)

Why Knocking on Wood Works

Regardless of whether you’re superstitious or not, you’ve probably knocked on wood sometime in your life. But why are we ingrained to do so as a culture? Recent research suggests that while knocking on wood won’t necessarily bring a desired result, knocking on wood is effective because it primes our brains via the “avoidant action.” The New York Times has a good summary of the psychological effect behind the wood knocking:

Research finds that people, superstitious or not, tend to believe that negative outcomes are more likely after they “jinx” themselves. Boast that you’ve been driving for 20 years without an accident, and your concern about your drive home that evening rises. The superstitious may tell you that your concern is well founded because the universe is bound to punish your hubris. Psychological research has a less magical explanation: boasting about being accident-free makes the thought of getting into an accident jump to mind and, once there, that thought makes you worry.

That makes sense intuitively. What’s less intuitive is how a simple physical act, like knocking on wood, can alleviate that concern.

In one study, to be published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, one of us, Jane L. Risen, and her colleagues Yan Zhang and Christine Hosey, induced college students to jinx themselves by asking half of them to say out loud that they would definitely not get into a car accident this winter. Compared with those who did not jinx themselves, these students, when asked about it later, thought it was more likely that they would get into an accident.

After the “jinx,” in the guise of clearing their minds, we invited some of these students to knock on the wooden table in front of them. Those who knocked on the table were no more likely to think that they would get into an accident than students who hadn’t jinxed themselves in the first place. They had reversed the effects of the jinx.

Knocking on wood may not be magical, but superstition proved helpful in understanding why the ritual was effective. Across cultures, superstitions intended to reverse bad luck, like throwing salt or spitting, often share a common ingredient. In one way or another, they involve an avoidant action, one that exerts force away from oneself, as if pushing something away.

While almost any behavior can be turned into a superstitious ritual, perhaps the ones that are most likely to survive are those that happen to be effective at changing how we feel. We can seek to rid ourselves of superstitions in the name of enlightenment and progress, but we are likely to find that some may be hard to shake because, although they may be superficially irrational, they may not be unreasonable. Superstitious rituals can really work — but it’s not magic, it’s psychology.

Japan, Blood Type, and Superstition

It is a widespread belief in Japan that character is linked to blood type, as this BBC Magazine story details:

According to popular belief in Japan, type As are sensitive perfectionists and good team players, but over-anxious. Type Os are curious and generous but stubborn. ABs are arty but mysterious and unpredictable, and type Bs are cheerful but eccentric, individualistic and selfish.

About 40% of the Japanese population is type A and 30% are type O, whilst only 20% are type B, with AB accounting for the remaining 10%.

This seems crazy:

A whole industry of customised products has also sprung up, with soft drinks, chewing gum, bath salts and even condoms catering for different blood groups on sale.

Seems to me like you can revel in or excuse your personality traits on your blood type. When it is working for you, great. But when something bad happens, blame your blood type.