Monday, July 19, 2010

How superstition improves performance

Interesting stuff from Damish et al. They demonstrate a causal effect of an activated good-luck-associated superstition on subsequent performance (using things like 'lucky charms'). Participants for whom a superstition was activated performed better in various motor and cognitive tasks compared with participants for whom no such concept was activated. Second, they showed that these performance-enhancing effects are mediated by an increase in perceived level of self-efficacy. Activating a good-luck superstition leads to improved performance by boosting people’s belief in their ability to master a task. Here is their abstract:
Superstitions are typically seen as inconsequential creations of irrational minds. Nevertheless, many people rely on superstitious thoughts and practices in their daily routines in order to gain good luck. To date, little is known about the consequences and potential benefits of such superstitions. The present research closes this gap by demonstrating performance benefits of superstitions and identifying their underlying psychological mechanisms. Specifically, four different experiments show that activating good-luck-related superstitions via a common saying or action (e.g., “break a leg,” keeping one’s fingers crossed) or a lucky charm improves subsequent performance in golfing, motor dexterity, memory, and anagram games. Furthermore, they demonstrate that these performance benefits are produced by changes in perceived self-efficacy. Activating a superstition boosts participants’ confidence in mastering upcoming tasks, which in turn improves performance. Finally, they show that increased task persistence constitutes one means by which self-efficacy, enhanced by superstition, improves performance.


  1. What about people who are utterly not superstitious or even annoyed by superstition?