Researchers have discovered that people’s elevated concerns after tempting fate can be eliminated if they engage in a ritual that involves exerting force away from themselves.
They found that engaging in the physical action can help eradicate a vivid mental image of the negative event, by literally pushing it away, making it less likely to happen.
The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, explained that people believe that negative outcomes are especially likely after a jinx.
If someone says, “No one I know will ever get into a car accident,” for example, it often feels that a car accident is likely to occur.
But people’s elevated concerns after tempting fate can be eliminated if they engage in a ritual to undo that bad luck.
The researchers, from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, discovered that actions which involve exerting force away from one’s body are the most effective at undoing a jinx.
Study author Jane Risen said: “Our findings suggest that not all actions to undo a jinx are equally effective.”
“Instead, we find that avoidant actions that exert force away from one’s representation of self are especially effective for reducing the anticipated negative consequences following a jinx.
“Engaging in an avoidant action seems to create the sense that the bad luck is being pushed away,”
In five separate experiments, researchers had participants either tempt fate or not and then engage in an action that was either avoidant or not. The avoidant actions included those that were superstitious – like knocking on wood – or non-superstitious – like throwing a ball.
They found that those who knocked down (away from themselves) or threw a ball believed that a jinxed negative outcome was less likely than participants who knocked up (toward themselves) or held a ball.