Cross Your Heart, Your Fingers, And Your Toes... Researchers Study Superstition
People often have weird superstitions that bring them luck... or they think bring them luck. Not just the obvious things like crossing fingers and toes, wearing a charm, or carrying a bunny's foot, but sometimes some pretty strange personal rituals that they believe are lucky - just look at what some athletes do!
Like the baseball player and manager Mike Hargrove, first baseman for the Rangers, the Padres, and the Indians back in the 1970's and early 80's. Hargrove would walk up the first-base line and take three practice swings before stepping into the batter's box. Just before he took a ready stance at the batter's plate, he would fiddle with his batting gloves, then his sleeves, and then he would wipe perspiration from his mouth with his sleeve. Finally, he would push down his batting helmet... and then he would step up to the plate. Hargrove went through this routine before each pitch! He was nicknamed the Human Rain Delay!
Researchers at the University of Köln in Germany studied aspects of superstition and its effect on performance, and published their results in the journal Psychological Science. The researchers conducted four small experiments using students, 80 percent who said they believed in good luck. The researchers randomly assigned all of the students to a superstition-activating or a control condition. They started with a 'lucky ball' for one group and 'a ball that everyone has used' for the other group. Then each participant had ten chances on a putting green to try to hit a hole in one.
In the next experiment, the participants were given a handheld box with 36 small balls and 36 small holes. One group was told that the examiner would cross her fingers for the participant, and the other group was told the equivalent of 'start now' in German.
The third experiment involved only the participants who said they had lucky charms - 41 of them. About half were asked for their lucky charms and told that the charms were being taken outside to be photographed. The other half were not told anything, but allowed to keep their charms with them. Then all the participants were given a memory test, after which they were asked to describe their level of confidence in their ability to perform the test.
The fourth experiment was similar to the third, but involved the 31 students who had a lucky charm; half of the lucky charms were taken out of the room and half remained. The participants were then given an anagram task, but first they were asked to set a goal for their performance: what percentage of the hidden words did they think they could find?
Can you guess the results of these experiments?
1. In the hole in one experiment, those who were told their ball was lucky performed better than the others with a mean score of 6.42 versus a mean score of 4.75.
2. In the 36 balls in 36 holes experiment involving motor dexterity, those who were told that the investigator was crossing her fingers for them finished the task significantly faster than the control group.
3. Those who took the memory test with their lucky charms in the room not only performed better on the test, but felt they had done better than the group whose lucky charms were 'being photographed."
4. And finally, in the anagram test, those whose lucky charms were in the room not only performed better, but set higher goals for themselves.
Hey, superstition works! Now what kind of rituals can you invent for yourself to bring you luck?