You’re not superstitious? Better cross your fingers

Juliet Critchlow said she wouldn’t want to break her mother’s back, but she went ahead and stepped on the crack anyway.

“I step on cracks all the time, and my mom’s never broken her back,” the 12-year-old reasoned.

Of course, Critchlow says she isn’t superstitious, so she had little trouble waltzing under a ladder, shattering a mirror and letting the black cat stroll by Thursday afternoon in an exhibit at the Exploratorium that challenges visitors to butt heads with their bad-luck fears — and to question why many of us fall for them.

Whether it’s the dreaded number 13, the unlucky penny or the misfortune cookie, the museum’s Superstition Obstacle Course has patrons toying with superstitions they wouldn’t dare mess with in everyday life.

The idea is not to test our luck, but to examine how history, culture and stereotypes can influence the mind into making decisions that might not appear all that rational, according to Michael Pearce, the Exploratorium project manager who designed the course.

“There’s a strong social element to fear, and it affects the way our minds work,” Pearce said. “What everybody is believing, people tend to believe. What they are doing, people tend to do.”

Then again, the exhibit, which runs through Sept. 1, is not necessarily meant to debunk bad-luck myths. Who knows? Maybe Dan Marino would have won a Super Bowl with the Miami Dolphins had he not worn the number 13 on his jersey.

Although skeptic groups, such as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, are working to make bad-luck charms such as spilled salt seem like spilled milk, the new Exploratorium exhibit — which runs through Sept. 1 — exists solely to show how easily the human mind can be influenced by the masses.

“Our idea is to examine your own psychology of why you think the way you do,” Pearce said.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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