As Luck Would Have It: Research Shows Superstitions Can Actually Improve Our Performance

Stevie Wonder has tried to tell us that "superstition ain't the way," but no matter how many times we have heard him sing it, we still have not heeded his warning. And it is a good thing too, because it turns out that Stevie had it all wrong. Superstition is the way.

Though I don't consider myself an overly superstitious person, when I was struggling with infertility years ago, I wore a symbol of strength every day around my neck. The moment I saw that necklace I just knew it was what I needed to help me through. Did the necklace help me get pregnant? Did it prevent me from breaking down at times? Nope, it did not do either of those things. Yet it gave me a teeny tiny sense that I was helping myself in some way that I couldn't quite explain.

Superstition is why football fans wear their jerseys every Sunday, why a stockbroker may eat the same breakfast during a good trading streak, why brides still wear or carry something blue, why hockey players sometimes stop shaving their beards during the playoffs, or why we still cross our fingers when we want something good to happen.

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A study in the Journal of Consumer Research says that people engage in these types of superstitious behavior when they want to achieve something but don't have the power to make it happen, from willing our football team to a win, or winning reelection. Maybe even to become pregnant. In any of those cases, the superstitious behavior helps us feel as if we have some small element of control over the outcome.

We can even become conditioned to associate certain products with success or failure. If a sports fan is wearing a specific item or using a certain product when his or her team wins, that person is more likely to repeat the behavior thinking that it might somehow help the team in the future. On Wall Street you can hear all sorts of crazy stories about traders who followed the same exact routine for days on end, from eating the same foods to hailing a taxi on the same corner, so as not to upset their trading streak.

Well, believers, guess what? Research shows that to some extent, superstitions work. Scientists performed a series of tests and found that engaging in superstitious thoughts and behaviors, such as a good luck charm, can help someone to reach their peak level of performance. It gives them the confidence boost needed to achieve more.

So the next time you feel like you could use a little luck, go ahead and grab that charm. It might be just what you needed!

-By Jessica Cohen

For 7 celebrities you never knew were so superstitious, visit Babble!

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