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Good Luck Charms Might Just Work

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, July 16 (HealthDay News) -- Nervous about an upcoming presentation at work, or concerned you'll strike out at the company softball game?

Taking along a lucky charm might boost your performance, according to a new study.

So if you have a lucky rabbit's foot or an outfit that's landed you a job or promotion in the past, take advantage.

Having some kind of lucky token appears to increase self-confidence and thus performance, says Lysann Damisch, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Cologne in Germany and leader of the study published in the July issue of Psychological Science.

Damisch came to that conclusion after evaluating the effects of "lucky" golf balls, charms and simple wishes of "good luck" on performance in a series of experiments.

She set out to study the link after noticing that many athletes, even star players, hold superstitions. According to Damisch, Michael Jordan wore his college team shorts under his NBA uniform for good luck, and Tiger Woods dons a red shirt on tournament Sundays, usually the last day of play. Other athletes latch on to lucky charms, too.

In one experiment, Damisch asked participants to bring a lucky charm to the study center. People presented a variety of items, such as wedding rings, special stones and well-loved stuffed animals.

After removing the good luck charms to take a photograph, the researchers returned the charms to half the participants and told the others they would get theirs back later.

The participants then took a computerized memory test, and those who had their lucky charms did better. Other evaluations attributed the difference to greater confidence.

In another experiment, 28 college students practiced putting golf balls. Some were given golf balls deemed "lucky"; others received golf balls with no mention of luck.

Those with the ''lucky'' golf balls performed better, the study authors found.

In a third evaluation, 51 German women were asked to complete a motor-dexterity task, placing small balls into holes in a slab. Those who were told a German expression equivalent to "I'll keep my fingers crossed" did better than those who were simply told when to begin.

Superstitious beliefs may boost confidence, Damisch said. "Especially in situations where people feel a bit insecure and thus want to gain some confidence -- for example, before a tournament, an exam, a job interview, an audition, our results suggest that it is helpful to have a little lucky charm close by."

But a talisman's power to bring good fortune isn't foolproof. "This strategy of course still does not guarantee that people win the tournament, pass the exam or get the job, but it seems that they perform at least a little bit better than without a lucky charm close by," Damisch said.

The study findings make sense to Stuart Vyse, author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition and a professor of psychology at Connecticut College in New London, Conn.

"It has long been assumed that superstition provided psychological benefits, but this is the first study to provide strong evidence of this effect," Vyse said.

Provided the lucky charm is small enough to fit in a pocket or purse, or is attire that no one but you knows is "lucky," it could become your secret weapon.

More information

For information about superstition and good moods, visit the American Psychological Association.

SOURCES: Lysann Damisch, Ph.D., assistant professor, psychology, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany; Stuart Vyse, Ph.D., professor, psychology, Connecticut College, New London, Conn.; July 2010, Psychological Science

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