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Superstitions Boost Performance and Confidence Featured

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lucky_shirtBelieving in a superstition can actually improve your performance on a task by boosting your self-confidence according to research published in the journal Psychological Science.

Superstition is a credulous belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge. It's a commonly held notion that superstitions are irrational and not logically connected to the outcomes of a situation. But researchers from the University of Cologne in Germany say there are measurable performance benefits to superstitions, such as crossing your for good luck, or wearing a luck shirt on game day.

Athletes in particular are known to sometimes hold superstitions. Examples of superstitions include all sorts of variations of lucky articles of clothing, specific pre-game music, lucky equipment avoiding stepping on lines before a game, eating certain foods and precise warm-ups.

Superstition Performance Study

Researchers designed four experiments and recruited 151 university students to test how their belief in luck would influence their ability to perform well in golf, motor dexterity, memory, and anagram games.

In the first experiment, students who believed they were putting with a "lucky ball" hit the target more often than students who were told they had the same ball as everyone else.

Researchers told female university students in the second experiment to carefully tilt a plastic tube to place little balls, one by one, into 36 small holes. They used the German expression "I press the thumbs for you" ("I keep my fingers crossed" in English) as a starting signal and timed how quickly the students completed the task. These students finished faster than students who were told that a watch was pressed to indicate when to start, or to just "go."

The final two experiments focused on more than just whether a superstition could improve performance, but also on what psychologically affected the outcome. Participants who had their own personal good luck charm performed better on a memory game than those whose charm was taken from them. They also reported feeling more confident that they would do well on the memory game. Additionally, while playing an anagram game in the final experiment, the presence of their lucky charm led participants to set higher goals and be more persistent to successfully complete the game.


News release, Association for Psychological Science.

Damisch, L.
Psychological Science, July 2010; vol 21(7): pp 1014-1020.

Last modified on Saturday, 18 May 2013 11:51
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