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Superstitions Help Performance

Superstitions Help PerformancePerhaps we should stop ridiculing individuals who perform irrational actions based on superstition: New research shows the actions often increase self-confidence, thereby improving performance.

Lysann Damisch and University of Cologne colleagues Barbara Stoberock and Thomas Mussweiler decided to research the effect of superstitions after watching athletes, including famous athletes, perform meaningless behavior or rituals as part of their athletic routine.

Damisch thought that a belief in superstition might help people do better by improving their confidence. She and her team designed a set of experiments to see if activating people’s superstitious beliefs would improve their performance on a task.

In one of the experiments, volunteers were told to bring a lucky charm with them. Then the researchers took it away to take a picture. People brought in all kinds of items, from old stuffed animals to wedding rings to lucky stones.

Half of the volunteers were given their charm back before the test started; the other half were told there was a problem with the camera equipment and they would get it back later. Volunteers who had their lucky charm did better at a memory game on the computer, and other tests showed that this difference was because they felt more confident.

They also set higher goals for themselves. Just wishing someone good luck – with “I press the thumbs for you,” the German version of crossing your fingers – improved volunteers’ success at a task that required manual dexterity.

The research is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Of course, even with improved confidence, you may still lose. “It doesn’t mean you win, because of course winning and losing is something else,” says Damisch. “Maybe the other person is stronger.”

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Superstitions Help Performance

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Superstitions Help Performance. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 25, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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