Athletes are a notoriously superstitious lot. Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs insisted on eating chicken before every game. Pro Bowl defensive tackle John Henderson of the Jacksonville Jaguars has the team’s trainer slap his face before each game. Michael Jordan always wore his blue Carolina basketball shorts underneath his Bulls uniform. Now this all may seem a little weird, but recent research indicates that having a superstition may actually improve your sport performance!
Three researchers, Lysann Damisch, Barbara Stoberock and Thomas Mussweiler, published their research on superstition and performance in the May, 2010 issue of Psychological Science . In one experiment, the researchers asked two groups of subjects to putt a golf ball. One group of subjects was told that they were using a "lucky ball” and the other group of subjects was not. The group putting the lucky balls sank one third more putts! In three other experiments the researchers asked subjects to do a memory test, perform a test of motor dexterity or solve anagrams (identifying words from their mixed up letters). In each experiment, one group of subjects was given a "lucky charm," or told to perform a superstitious act, like crossing their fingers. In all three of these experiments, the group with the superstitious ritual or lucky charm significantly outperformed the other group.
So, the obvious question is, "What in the world is going on here?" Well, according to the researchers, these superstitious behaviors increased the subjects’ self-efficacy (that is, their self-confidence) as well as their persistence on the tasks. As Damisch and her colleagues put it, the experiments "demonstrate that these performance benefits are produced by changes in perceived self-efficacy. Activating a superstition boosts participants’ confidence in mastering upcoming tasks, which in turn improves performance. [The experiments also showed] that increased task persistence constitutes one means by which self-efficacy, enhanced by superstition, improves performance.”
What does this mean for you? It means that if you don't have a pre-competition ritual already, maybe it's time to start thinking about getting one. The best rituals are things that are simple, easy to do, and don't rely on anything or anyone else. That way you will always be able to perform your ritual regardless of where you are, who you are with, or what you have with you.
So next time you're heading to a competition, take a good superstition with you. Just don't walk under a ladder on the way!
Sat, June 26, 2010
by Dana Blackmer, Ph.D., CC-AASP filed under