The Situationist

U Can’t Touch This

Posted by Adam Benforado on July 14, 2011

Look around and you will see countless examples of how we conceptualize luck as following the “logic of contagion”: the star baseball player who refuses to change his socks during his record-breaking hitting streak; the basketball player who takes a shower during halftime of a playoff game after going 0-12 from the field; the students rubbing the foot of a lucky statute on their way to a big exam.

Luck, good or bad, seems to have a certain “stickiness.”

Over the weekend my friend Norbert Schwarz sent me a fascinating new article that he has just published with Alison Jing Xu and Rami Zwick in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that investigates this very phenomenon.  The abstract of the paper appears below:

Many superstitious practices entail the belief that good or bad luck can be “washed away.” Consistent with this belief, participants who recalled (Experiment 1) or experienced (Experiment 2) an episode of bad luck were more willing to take risk after having as opposed to not having washed their hands, whereas participants who recalled or experienced an episode of good luck were less willing to take risk after having as opposed to not having washed their hands. Thus, the psychological effects of physical cleansings extend beyond the domain of moral judgment and are independent of people’s motivation: incidental washing not only removes undesirable traces of the past (such as bad luck) but also desirable ones (such as good luck), which people would rather preserve.

You can check out the whole article, Washing Away Your (Good or Bad) Luck: Physical Cleansing Affects Risk-Taking Behavior, here.

As a fan of Norbert’s work, I’m a bit biased, but it’s a great contribution to the growing embodied cognition literature.

For a recent review of the implications of the field for law and legal theory, click here.

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