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.
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.
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- A Dimuon Particle At 30 GeV In ALEPH ??
- Who Is Trying To Destroy The Internet?
- A Racist On The Jews: Let The Donald Trump!
- President Obama, Why Humans On Mars Right Now Are Bad For Science
- Hearing Voices Again? It's More Common Than You Think
- DDoS war: How zombie fridges bit the internet in the a$$ today.
- The Social Psychology Of Online Trolling, Part 1 Of 3
- "I knew there would be lots of BS, but coming back after two days and finding nothing but five comments..."
- "Hi Tommaso, In your added note, you sound like this has now been debunked. Perhaps you could explain..."
- "The argument about parallel muon momenta indeed excludes *direct* decay of Z to bbar+X. To my b..."
- " I hope we never give our government complete control over the internet.NSA has been tapping in..."
- "Without question there is not 'something'...there is only nothing. The deeper you delve into everything..."
- The Math of Hunting and Fishing: When to Work Together
- Placebo: Bubbles Of Nothing Are Still Not Something
- People Who Take Drugs May Be Likelier to Commit Suicide
- Improved 'Screen Time' Guidelines Could Make Parents & Kids Happier
- Dr. Jamie Wells Named One Of America's Top Pediatricians
- Why Did EPA Delay Its Glyphosate Safety Report?