Superstition Improves Confidence and Performance

Bruce Hood, an experimental psychologist at Bristol University and the author of The Science of Superstition (the softcover release of SuperSense), reports:

A team from Köln in Germany has shown that university students of whom more than 80 percent believe in luck, perform significantly better on a putting task if they think they have been handed a “lucky” golf ball. They also did significantly better than controls on a second experiment if they were told that someone was crossing their fingers for them. In a third experiment, students who had brought their lucky talisman along to the testing session did better when it was in the testing room. The fourth experiment demonstrated that these lucky students attributed their better performance to improved self-efficacy. So there we have it. If you believe in lucky charms then you perform better because of perceived self-efficacy.

And this greater confidence, the researchers found, leads people to set higher goals and work harder at achieving them. But the team, led by social psychologist Lysann Damisch, didn’t test the effects of superstitions linked to bad luck (which they plan to do next) or the negative effects of superstitions. As Ed Young points out:

the big worry is that superstitions, while potentially providing temporary benefits, could prevent people from taking responsibility for changing their own fates or even form the basis of catastrophic decisions. Clearly, the effects described by Damisch’s study need to be considered as part of a bigger psychological canvas. The effects of crossed fingers on anagram tasks is one thing, but the effects of conspiracy theories or religious traditions on our ability to understand the world around us and to make decisions in our lives is another matter entirely.

Category: Positive Psychology


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