superstition; traditional medicine/psychology legend; myth; irrational belief; full moon; McClintock effect; Throckmorton; black cloud; Christmas effect; jinxed; bao; Friday the thirteenth; attitude of health personnel


Medicine and Health Sciences | Psychological Phenomena and Processes



A superstition is a belief or practice that is considered irrational, resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance or a false conception of causation. In medical settings superstitions often arise from attempts to assign causation to events that are either random, or in which all information is not available. In this manuscript, we present a descriptive review of the literature related to superstition in medicine and present the results of our own data; that one’s age is equal to the chance of being admitted from the emergency department.


In the descriptive review of superstitious beliefs in medicine, we identified 295 articles in which specific superstitions were studied. These articles were then organized by field and specific superstition. To investigate the age and admission correlation, we retrospectively quarried over 250,000 charts.


295 papers on specific medical superstitions were reviewed and presented according to specialty, population and commonly investigated superstitions. Psychiatry had the largest number of articles addressing superstitious behavior, followed by OB/GYN. Importantly, significant heterogeneity exist within these papers suggesting that superstitious beliefs can be found in all fields of medicine. In addition, our data did not support the superstition that a patient’s age will mirror their admission rate.


The majority of the superstitions identified were “harmless” in that they would not result in significant patient harm. The exponential growth in medical knowledge presents a challenge for many to stay up to date. Our findings suggest a need for a continued emphasis of scientific literacy among physicians and further establish the expectation that physicians be engaged in consuming the latest scientific evidence in their field.

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