Culture As A Physiological Impulse?

Many people are familiar with the phrase “knock on wood” or “touch wood” (BrE).  It is often said to counteract something someone has said in order to prevent it coming true.  While this is just a superstition, many people still use this saying and will look around for a piece of wood upon which to knock as an accompanying gesture.  Of the people who use this gesture, few probably are aware of it’s origins and the act has simply become a habit.

Although I don’t believe that knocking on wood really prevents anything bad from happening, I still often do it.  Recently I realized that if I didn’t knock on wood at an appropriate time, I actually felt the consequences from restraining myself from doing it.  There was definitely a physical uneasiness and discomfort that dissipated when I finally did knock on wood.  This got me thinking about cultural traits as physiological impulses.

Is it possible that certain cultural traits become so embedded into us that an accompanying physical response manifests?  Could this be why certain superstitions live on long after their origins are forgotten?  Or do people really believe that such acts can save them and the physical response is a result of fearful thoughts?


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