Study Finds Lucky Charms Can Boost Performance

Posted on July 13, 2010

Lucky Charms

Many athletes are very superstitious. Michael Jordan wore his college team shorts underneath his NBA uniform for good luck and Tiger Woods wears a red shirt on tournament Sundays. New research shows that having some kind of lucky charm can actually improve an individual's performance, if the individual truly believes the object will give them luck. The researchers say it works because the object increases the individual's self-confidence.

"I watch a lot of sports, and I read about sports, and I noticed that very often athletes - also famous athletes - hold superstitions," says Lysann Damisch of the University of Cologne and lead author of the study. "And I was wondering, why are they doing so?"

Damisch thought that a belief in superstition might help people do better by improving their confidence. With her colleagues Barbara Stoberock and Thomas Mussweiler, also of the University of Cologne, she 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. Some of the objects people brought in are pictured above. Half of the volunteers were given their charm back before the test started. The other half of the volunteers did not get their item back before testing began - they were told there was a problem with the camera equipment and they would get it back later. Volunteers who had their lucky charm performed better on a computer memory game. Other tests showed that this difference was because they felt more confident. The volunteers who were given back their lucky items also set higher goals for themselves.

The research is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Psychology Today also has an article about the study here.

Photo: Association for Psychological Science

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