Magazine article Psychology Today

Superstitious to the Bone

Magazine article Psychology Today

Superstitious to the Bone

Article excerpt

YOU DON'T HAVE to believe In voodoo or sorcery to indulge the urge to knock on wood. Whether we considerthem magical or not, simple physical movements may ha ve an innately reassuring effect.

A paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General suggests that exerting force away from our bodies may help us feel bBttBr about negative possibilities-as if we're physically repelling them. Coauthor Yan Zhang, a professor of marketing atthe National University of Singapore, notes similarities between rituals across cultures, such as knocking on wood, throwing things (like salt), and spitting. "We think there's a common underlying mechanism," she says.

Zhang's team asked college students to "tempt fate" with presumptuous phrases ("Nobody I know would get Into a bad car accident"). Students who then rapped their knuckles on a wooden tabletop tended to rate the odds of such an accident lower than students who didn't knock. Conversely, those who knocked up into thetable-toward themselves- thought an accident was more likely than others did. A follow-up study showed that tossing a tennis ball, or even just pretending to toss it, had a similar effect, in contrastto holding or carrying it. …

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