…would be punishable by Slow Dial-Up.

We’d all agree that spam is an annoying nuisance —a pesky swarm of e-mosquitoes dive-bombing our in-boxes. We all hate it so much that we would never knowingly forward spam to our friends. Right?

Several times a week, I get what I call “superstitious spam emails” from friends—the 21st Century version of chain letters. You know the kind: Read this little prayer, ditty, cute pics with captions, and forward it to fill-in-the-number of your friends. When you do, you’ll receive some fabulous good luck.

Does the sender really think that by simply forwarding an email to several friends they’ve somehow garnered special dispensation from the email fairies? I’d guess that’s 25% of the reason. The other 75%? The email’s threat of bad luck if it’s not forwarded.

The one in my in-box this morning gave this dire example of what might befall me by not forwarding: “When the President of Argentina received this letter and called it “junk mail”, 8 days later his son died.” I’d venture to say that it wasn’t the email’s power that killed the son, but rather the father’s corrupt dealings.

Rationally, we all know that. So why do some of us feel compelled to forward these emails anyway? A quick revisit to our Psych-101 class provides the answer. When faced with the choice between pain or pleasure, the majority of people (and animals) will choose to avoid pain. These email chain letters are a poignant case in point: We would rather chance annoying our friends than risk the implied bad luck.

Amazing, isn’t it?