by Evan Glenn
Ladders, shattered mirrors, black cats. Rabbits’ feet, lucky pennies, four leaf clovers. We have all grown up familiar with various superstitions and whether you personally choose to believe them or not, it is undeniable of the effect superstition has on lots of people. Stage actors, public speakers, and sports athletes in particular are famous for their strange and often funny habits. Superstition is even prevalent among our political leaders; Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain is known to possess a lucky compass, a lucky penny, a lucky rabbits foot and a lucky feather; McCain even has a ritual to go watch a movie before election votes are counted.
Interestingly, a study reported the Journal of Consumer Research had evidence that consumers are influences by superstition as well. On Friday the thirteenth 800-900 million dollars is lost in business in the United States. Kramer and Block also found in a similar study that Taiwanese people would purchase a radio for 888 yuan rather than 777 yuan(8 is a lucky number in Chinese culture).
So why are our heads of state carrying around their lucky compasses? Why is superstition so alluring to those people who practice it? One study performed by Jennifer Witson and Adam Galinsky gave evidence suggesting that those who practice superstitious behavior are doing so in order to feel more in control of a situation. In one part of the experiment, they asked a group of subjects a series of questions. Even if the subject got most of the questions right, they were told they got most of the questions wrong; this would confuse the subjects and make them feel a loss of control. Then these subjects were shown two different kinds of pictures; one kind made up of random dots that didn’t make a particular shape and the other kind with dots that had a picture in them. While 95 percent of the subjects identified the dots with images in them, 43 percent saw images in the pictures that were simply random dots. This section of the experiment, along with the data gathered from the rest of the experiment, showed that humans feel calmer once they have found some sort of pattern, even if there really isn’t one.
University of Chicago Press Journals (2008, February 12). Are You Feeling Lucky? How Superstition Impacts Consumer Choice. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 16, 2008, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080212122050.htm
Bailey, H. (2008, January 9). A Lucky Nickel. Newsweek. Retrieved October 16, 2008, from Newsweek Web site: http://www.newsweek.com/id/87882/page/1
University of Texas at Austin Public Affairs (2008, October 2). Loss of Control Leads People to Seek Order Through Superstition, Ritual. Retrieved November 15, 2008 from http://www.utexas.edu/news/2008/10/02/control_superstition/