If a black cat crosses the road, many an Indian will wait for someone else to walk down the path first, thinking bad luck will befall him otherwise. This is a classic example of superstition in an insecure person, say experts.
Sanjay Chugh, a leading psychiatrist and the founder chairman of the Delhi-based International Institute of Mental Health, said: "When we are insecure, we do anything to make ourselves feel more secure."
He said an insecure mind tries to make an association between randomly occurring events without having any evidence or basis for it. "This association is superstition."
Many Indians refuse to step out of the house immediately after someone sneezes. Another common superstition is to carry a "lucky" pen to an examination.
"If a person wears any specific colour (say blue) while taking an examination and he or she performs well, then the mind tends to make an association between the colour of the dress and the performance level," he explained.
Chugh said people who have a superstitious habit could be divided into two categories - those who feel more secure because of it and those who practise it mindlessly just because everybody they know does it too.
"On the face of it we will see no difference between the two. But I think that a lot of business families would fall in the first category while a lot of middle class people would fall in the latter," he said.
Samir Parikh, chief of the department of Mental Health & Behavioural Sciences, Max Healthcare, says ignorance is another root cause of superstitions.
"It's simply a belief resulting from ignorance and faulty understanding," he said.
Sanjay Pattanayak, consultant, psychiatry and de-addiction, Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (VIMHANS), said lack of education and a person's upbringing also influence superstitious habits.
Sometimes superstitious people can even require medical intervention.
"If people feel distressed and depressed due to superstition, they must seek medical assistance," Chugh advised. Clinically, the doctor said, a combination of medication and psychotherapy is used on such people.
"Once a person feels more in control after the therapy, we work upon his/her insecurity and use a process called systematic desensitisation. Here we make the person get into the feared situations in a controlled way so that he can restore the confidence and faith in himself or herself," Chugh said.
Experts, however, suggest that as long as such beliefs do not lead to excessive waste of time, money and energy, they do not require clinical treatment as such.