Wives’ Tales or Attribution?

Dr. Lorin Bradbury, author of "Treasures from an Old Book, Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World".

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: I’m Yup’ik Eskimo from the Lower Yukon region. Growing up, I’ve heard a lot of wives’ tales about itching hands (to receive money soon), twitching eye lids (about to see distant someone), twitching upper/lower lips (good news/bad news, etc.) and similar folk lore. I’m over 50 years old (relevant?), on some occasions (itchy hands, twitching eyes, upper/lower lip, etc.) have actually come to pass, almost like “mini-premonitions.” Again, not every time, but enough to recognize a possibility that something is about to occur. Is this more physiological?

Recent example: Over a week ago my bottom lip had a small twitch (usually ‘bad’ news). I prayed nothing too bad would occur and went about the day. Nothing happened that evening. But, early next afternoon, I was bringing my full cup of coffee to the couch, when ‘boom,’ my whole cup (large w/cream) slipped off my hand and dumped on the couch.

Answer: Above you asked, “Is this more physiological?” I’m thinking you may have meant, “Is this psychological?” Since I am a psychologist, I will go with psychological, rather than physiological. Assuming that these are wives’ tales, this might be explained by Attribution Theory. Whether conscious or unconscious, when a person has a heightened awareness that something might happen because you have been told to expect it, and when something fits the expectation, you immediately make the connection. Otherwise, it would just have been a spilled cup of coffee (clumsiness).

Attribution Theory, a social psychology theory, that describes the process of assigning the cause of behavior to some situation or event outside a person’s control, rather than to some internal characteristic, or personal cause may best explain this. Using your example, it’s very possible, you have spilled coffee at other times and thought nothing of it, but since you had heard that a twitching lip was likely to result in something bad happening, when the coffee spilled on your couch (bad news), you immediately attributed it to the twitching lip. (Just a guess on my part.)

If you are interested in Attribution Theory, you can explore it on the Internet.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

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