Washington: Superstitions are most likely to occur under high levels of uncertainty, says a study, adding that people are more likely to turn to superstitions to achieve a performance goal versus a learning goal.
Performance goals are when people try to be judged as successful by others.
"We show that using superstition increases people's confidence in achieving performance goals, and it is certainly possible that under certain circumstances, increased confidence may lead to improved performance," said Eric Hamerman at Tulane University.
Performance goals tend to be extrinsically motivated and are perceived to be susceptible to influence from outside forces.
Learning goals are often judged internally.
As learning goals are intrinsically motivated, this leads to a perception that they are also internally controlled and less likely to be impacted by outside forces.
Hamerman, along with Carey Morewedge at Boston University conducted six experiments to test whether the type of achievement goal would change the likelihood of those engaging in superstitious behaviour.
People used superstitious behaviour to help achieve both chronic and temporary performance goals, but not for help achieving a learning goal, found the studies.
The last study found that participants assigned to use a lucky rather than unlucky avatar exhibited increased confidence in achieving a performance goal but not a learning goal.
"We show that using superstition increases people's confidence in achieving performance goals, and it is certainly possible that under certain circumstances, increased confidence may lead to improved performance," Hamerman said.
"The research does not investigate whether belief in superstitions has an effect on actual performance," Hamerman said.
The study appeared in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.