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Superstitious: To Be, or Not To Be

Credit: Michael Meier


Find a penny pick it up, the rest the day you’ll have good luck.

What are some of my crazy superstitions?  Wearing my shamrock pants for a Notre Dame football game; taking a nap and having pasta before one of my own basketball games; never ever using a green tee on the golf course; wearing the blue pin-stripe suit for a big presentation; using my favorite mechanical pencil for a test; and, always having a $2 dollar bill in my pocket for good luck.  I often vacillate on the value these rituals provide to me.

Sometimes I feel like I spend more time preparing for my superstitious practices than I spend on preparing for the important event or performance I was hoping my ritual might influence.  Can being superstitious affect your behavior or state of mind?  Heck yeah it can.

In a series of studies in the March 2015 issue of Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers found that performance goals were more likely to elicit superstitious behavior – especially a penchant for lucky items – than learning goals were.  When people feel the world is out of their control, they look for external sources of control. Superstitions are really a reaction to feeling out of control,” says Eric Hamerman, an assistant professor of marketing at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York. “People like to put a sense of control around chaos or uncertainty.”

If you’re like most people, you occasionally participate in superstitious thinking or behavior often without even realizing you’re doing it.  Think about it.  When was the last time you knocked on wood?  Walked within the lines?  Avoided a black cat?  Or, read your daily horoscope? These are all examples of superstitions or what Stuart Vyse, PhD, and the author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, calls magical thinking.

Dr. Vyse says, “In our quest to understand superstitions, let’s start by defining them. After all, not all rituals or beliefs are superstitions. The dividing line is whether you give some kind of magical significance to the ritual.”

Based on Dr. Vyse’s research, it appears my nap and pasta before a game can be a useful ritual that calms me down and gives me the appropriate fuel to perform at a high level.  He says that by believing my shamrock pants helped win a big football game, I’m probably entering superstitious territory.

Now that I think about it, Notre Dame hasn’t won the national championship in 30 plus years, and I’m no closer to the PGA tour at 47 than when I started my “no green tees” superstition.  Perhaps my focus should be on preparation and the things I really can control, and let someone else enjoy the benefits of that lost penny.



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