While scientists don’t normally advise you throw salt over your shoulder or avoid black cats, some studies show there is a basis for human superstition.
On this week’s Show Me the Science, Professor Luke O’Neill investigates the science of luck, chance and superstition.
“Science does suggest that some of these superstitions work,” he said.
“A study was done with golfers – they gave them a golf ball and said, ‘this is a lucky golf ball’ and then in the next round, they tell another golfer that this is not a lucky golf ball.
“Strikingly performance was better with the lucky golf ball – but it was the same golf ball. The scientist pretended they were different ball.”
Prof O’Neill explained this is due to “positive thinking”.
“If you think something is bringing you a bit of luck, then you might perform better,” he said.
“A study asked people to solve anagrams and puzzles, and they performed better with a lucky charm.
“You’ll keep trying if you have your lucky charm... you feel more empowered.”
Lucky versus unlucky
Everyone knows someone who just seems lucky, whether they always seem to win a bet or have one a lotto a few more times than anyone else you know.
“Is there a difference between lucky and unlucky?” Prof O’Neill asked.
“An experiment was done on this – they asked people to read a newspaper.
“The scientists had put in one page the following sentence: ‘Say to the experimenter you've seen this, and you win £250’.
“People who said they were lucky at the start of the experiment, they were more likely to see the words.”
Prof O’Neill said people who are more inclined to say they’re unlucky are also more inclined to be more anxious and distracted.
“The person who said they were lucky immediately said, ‘Oh look I won £250’, while the unlucky person might have said, ‘Oh, that can’t be right. I’m not going to read it out, there’s a catch here somewhere’.”
Luck, it seems, then has a lot to do with confidence.
“If you say today is going to be a good day, the day might go better for you, because you’re going to be more confident,” Prof O’Neill said.
“You’re in control of your own destiny.”