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    Superstition Validated? Only When It Works
    By News Staff | July 13th 2010 05:52 PM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Superstition may work if you think it works.   If only voodoo were so easy, we'd love to have an army of zombies at our command.

    But people, and certainly athletes, maintain any number of superstitious rituals, so Lysann Damisch, Barbara Stoberock and Thomas Mussweiler of the University of Cologne designed a set of experiments to see if activating  people's superstitious beliefs would improve their performance on a task.  Their research says that having some kind of lucky token can actually improve performance – but by increasing self-confidence and not any magical mojo.

    In one of the experiments, volunteers were told to bring a lucky charm with them. Then the researchers took it away to take a picture. People brought in all kinds of items, from old stuffed animals to wedding rings to lucky stones. Half of the volunteers were given their charm back before the test started; the other half were told there was a problem with the camera equipment and they would get it back later.

    Volunteers who had their lucky charm did better at a memory game on the computer, and other tests showed that this difference was because they felt more confident. They also set higher goals for themselves. Just wishing someone good luck – with "I press the thumbs for you," the German version of crossing your fingers – improved volunteers' success at a task that required manual dexterity.

    lucky charms superstition
    Credit: Association for Psychological Science

    What happens when your superstition clashes with someone else's?  Will Michael Jordan's college team shorts underneath his NBA uniform beat Tiger Woods' red shirt in a golf match?  Self-confidence boosts can only take you so far.

    "It doesn't mean you win, because of course winning and losing is something else," says Damisch. "Maybe the other person is stronger."

    The research will soon be published in Psychological Science.

    Comments

    Gerhard Adam
    ...designed a set of experiments to see if activating  people's superstitious beliefs would improve their performance on a task.
    Perhaps they should simply have watched a few television programs, since this topic has come up more than once in many weekly shows.

    I'm not clear on why this was worthy of experimentation.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    I assume it was them sitting around watching athletes talk about the weird stuff they do so they wanted to see if people with rituals actually did better.    Belief is a key component so there can't be a lot of correlation to go with the observation.
    Gerhard Adam
    Isn't that just ultimately a variation on the themes of "positive thinking" and "believing in yourself"?  Since confidence is based on our own perception of how positively we approach a problem/situation, it seems a bit obvious that anything that can increase our confidence is likely to produce more positive results.

    This is something that is well known to musicians, martial artists, or anyone that has to perform functions that must become practically secondary.  One of the biggest liabilities a human being has is to "over-think" a situation, so we tend to practice so that we can perform actions without thinking.  Therefore, the more confident we are, the more relaxed we are, and the more we can keep our brains from interfering in a physical activity that our bodies are quite capable of performing without over-thinking.
    Mundus vult decipi