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Study: Superstitions pay off

We all know that superstitions are irrational, right? But many of us persist in maintaining behaviors and beliefs that, while they might seem silly to others, give us at least a small sense of security.

Now there's research to suggest that lucky charms and other expressions of superstitious belief may in fact benefit those who hold them. In a series of related experiments reported in the July issue of the journal Psychological Science, people who executed tasks after being exposed to superstitious phrases or good-luck objects performed better than those who had no such mystical help.

Whether putting golf balls or playing memory games, subjects achieved better results when they'd been told that the ball they were putting had been lucky for others or simply told that fingers were being crossed on their behalf (actually, as the study took place in Germany, that gesture involved pressing thumbs together.) In one experiment, participants were asked to bring in an object they considered a personal lucky charm; those who were allowed to keep theirs during the test activity did better than those whose charms were temporarily taken away.

But why would that work?

The researchers suggest that belief in the power of superstition may confer self-confidence that translates to heightened achievement. Further, they figure, persistence fueled by the success fueled by superstition might build even more confidence.

It's nice to at last have some kind of scientific explanation for the power of superstition. I've always harbored a few choice superstitions of my own, but I've always felt a bit guilty and anti-intellectual about them. Now I can relax in the knowledge that my little rituals (yes, I do more than my share of knocking on wood) are okay -- and they might actually do me some good.

Are you superstitious? Do you have an object you consider a good-luck charm or a ritual you run through to make things turn out well?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  July 15, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  General Health , Psychology  
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I assume that the benefits were only conferred on people who actually believed in the superstition?

Posted by: ettu | July 15, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

The one time Hubbest forgot to receive his pre-ride angels (right eye, left eye), he put his Harley down. Now he won't go out without them. Our little ritual reminds him to stay alert and ever watchful.

Posted by: watchbird1 | July 15, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Oops, sorry, I see the article covered that. I need more sleep.

Posted by: ettu | July 15, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse


Why do people continue to try and support irrational beliefs???? This has NOTHING to do with "mystical" beliefs or the "good luck" objects.

Look - a more effective experiment would be to have people say before the task - "I think you will do well" or "I like you." Alternatively, "I don't think you can do this at all."


Posted by: cmecyclist | July 16, 2010 4:10 AM | Report abuse

Actually isn't this somewhat related to the placebo effect? By simply instilling confidence in a positive outcome can actually produce better outcomes. Not strange at all, rather just a very remarkable feature of our psychology/ physiological relationship. Unfortunately it can work in reverse, bad omen equals greater risk of bad outcome by diminishing confidence.

Posted by: job22 | July 16, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

I am the first to admit that I do carry a "smiling Buddha" pendant. Not necessarily because I believe it brings me luck but because it reminds me of keeping things simple and pure.

Posted by: evolutiontotalwellness | July 18, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

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