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?
- Dopamine Receptor Agonist Drugs Linked To Gambling And Hypersexuality
- New Tractor Beam Can Repel And Attract
- What's Hiding Under The Clouds Of Venus - Heavy Metal Frost?
- Amenhotep III: Ancient Egyptian Mummies Didn't Have Spinal Arthritis
- #GAMERGATE Style Harassment Does Not Happen in the Male Dominated Sciences
- Get A Heart On: Viagra Is Good Outside The Bedroom Too
- Psychiatry Should Switch From Symptom-based Prescriptions To Target-based
- "I'll not argue that humanity made God in their image, because we sought to explain something we..."
- "I think we all are atheist, agnostics, and believers throughout our life time. I also, think some..."
- "Author-- Was it necessary to add the pejorative comment-- Even 2,000 years ago people made fun..."
- "The scenario mentioned above (Poor person shows up at emergency room with a fever... No health..."
- "Actually, I used to believe. It was what I was taught as a child and I was raised a Christian...."
- Mutagenesis: One way Europeans wish it was 1936 again
- Closer examination of risk factors for Latinos underscores cultural diversity
- Saving bees requires less pesticides, changing farming
- Could GM plants replace airport security scanners?
- In a battle of brains, chimpanzees match human toddlers
- ‘Urban farmers’ behind GMO labeling initiatives
- Measuring on ice: Researchers create 'smart' ice skating blade
- Paralyzed man recovers some function following transplantation of OECs and nerve bridge
- Exposure to traffic pollution during pregnancy can damage future child's lungs
- Non-smokers exposed to 3 times above safe levels of particles when living with smokers
- The Lancet: Three people infected with Ebola predicted to fly from West Africa every month if no exit screening takes place