Sunday, December 25, 2011

Are There Psychological Benefits to Being Superstitious?

Are you a superstitious person? Do you cross your fingers before an important event? Do you try to avoid going out on Friday the 13th? Do you carry a lucky charm? If you answer yes to some of all of these questions, it's quite obvious that you are superstitious. Well, you are not alone because many people are superstitious as well. You have probably read about how there are always 31 lucky cents in John McCain's pocket because he wants to reverse the unlucky number "13" to gain some advantage. Some athletes go to the extreme of wearing the same uniform when they are on a winning streak. Are there psychological benefits to being superstitious? Let's take a look.
Most superstitious people believe in the element of luck. In sports, a game can be won or lost by a missed call or a fraction of an inch. As in the game of soccer, a striker kicks the ball towards the goal with all his might, and the ball hits the goal post at an angle which is just millimeters away from being a goal or a miss. Is it luck? How about the sailors who go out to sea, believing that their lives are in the hands of the gods? Do they gain a psychological edge with their superstitions? It's hard to tell. In a series of interesting experiments, the University of Cologne's Lysann Damisch explored these ideas and the findings are quite fascinating. If nothing else, she discovered that superstition can boost a person's self-confidence, helping them to perform better in various tasks.
In the first experiment, Damisch picked 51 students to participate in a test of dexterity. The object used was a cube with a grid of 36 holes and 36 ball bearings. Their task was to get all the ball bearings into the holes in the shortest possible time. Armed with a stop watch, Damisch timed the students. When she said, "I press the watch for you" or "On 'go', you go", the time taken for the students to complete the task was about 5 to 6 minutes. In Germany, a lucky phrase, which is similar to "touch on wood" is "I press the thumb for you". When she said this to the students, amazingly, they completed the task in about 3 minutes.
In another experiment, Jamisch put together a group of 41 students to study the impact of lucky charms on their performance in a memory game. Earlier, she asked the students to bring their lucky charms to school. Randomly, she left some of the luck charms in another room while she returned with lucky charms for some of the students. In the memory game, the students were to turn over two face-down cards at a time until all the 18 pairs were matched. The results showed that the students who were without their lucky charms performed much worse than the students who had their lucky charms.

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