Superstitious people believe the physical act of touching a good luck charm can elicit luck and think that physical cleansing can remove bad luck. However, researchers from the University of Toronto, the University of Michigan, and the University of California, Riverside, wanted to determine if superstitious people would take more or less risk as a result of washing their hands. They enlisted 59 students and asked half of them to remember a particular incident that resulted in financial luck, and half an experience of bad financial luck. The test subjects were then instructed to evaluate a hand cleaning product, half of whom used it to clean their hands. To determine their willingness to take risk, the participants were presented with a scenario in which they had to make an important business decision involving significant financial risk.
The researchers discovered if they had cleaned their hands, the participants who remembered bad luck were more likely to take risk than those who had not cleaned their hands, suggesting they believed they had washed their bad luck away. Additionally, in the group who did not use the hand cleaning product, 77 percent of those who remembered an experience of good luck took more risk, compared to only 36 percent of the participants who recalled an episode of bad luck. Not surprisingly, those who washed their good luck memories away were less likely to choose the risky decision than those who had not cleaned their good luck memories away. The researchers discovered similar results in a second experiment that examined the robustness of their findings by using a gambling scenario that involved repeated episodes of good or bad luck. The researchers said, “Our findings highlight that the psychological power of physical cleansings is not limited to traces of the past that people want to remove. Even the winners, whose usual superstitious practices indicate a desire to hold on to their good luck, are affected by an incidental hand cleaning and take less risk once their good luck has been removed.”
Xu, A. J., Zwick, R., & Schwarz, N. (2011, June 27). Washing Away Your (Good or Bad) Luck: Physical Cleansing Affects Risk-Taking Behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023997
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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