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Surprising Science

Superstitions Stifle Our Ability to Improve Ourselves

When uncertainty strikes, we often fall back on superstition and lucky trinkets to help us succeed. But when we reframe these situations as opportunities for learning, we stop relying on luck and start improving ourselves.

We all fall into superstitious habits at some time or another, whether it’s to see our team win the big game or perhaps get that last snow day. But BPS has highlighted a recent study that delves deeper into our superstitious habits, particularly what triggers us to engage in them and how this thinking stifles our ability to improve ourselves.

Researchers Eric Hamerman and Carey Morewedge wrote about their investigation, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology. Their research consisted of several experiments to see when participants would use luck to chase after a goal.

In one experiment, one group of participants was primed to chase after a grade in a hypothetical assignment and then given the option to use a lucky pen. The other group was told that learning the material was paramount, and for these individuals, the “lucky” pen held no attraction.

In a follow-up experiment, participants were given the option to re-choose avatars for a scientific assignment. Again, one group of participants was told to focus on doing as well as possible, while the other group was told to focus on learning the material. The goal-oriented participants tended to stick with the same avatar they’d been using when researchers told them they’d done well on a previous assignment. The learning-oriented participants tended to switch up their avatar to a scientist — fitting with the theme of the exercise.

What’s more, researchers found that when a task was introduced as straightforward, participants were less drawn to superstition, and let go of their “lucky” avatar. Only participants that were told “some people intuitively see the right answers, while others do not” would try to seek Lady Luck’s favor.

It’s interesting to see how people abandon superstition when they “reframe their objectives as learning goals to focus on the process rather than the results.” What this study teaches us is it’s about rethinking situations and opportunities for growth — not just concentrating on getting the cheese at the end of the maze.

Read more at BPS.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


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