Effect of Wishing ‘Good Luck’ on Performance

Running head: WHY DOES WISH WORK

Does the wish work because of a specific superstitious belief or because the wish is a positive sentiment?

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The present research examined whether the wish worked because of a specific superstitious belief or because the wish was a positive sentiment. Individuals (N=241) were being put into three different conditions: “Good luck with prize draw”, “Good luck with task” and “No wish” after being informed that they would be entered into a lucky draw. It was hypothesized that wishing participants “good luck” with the word puzzle will give better performance at the puzzle than nothing. We predicted that their belief in luck (specific superstitious belief) for the prize draw should not affect word puzzle performance. However, if the phrase “good luck” generates a better mood, a higher level of self-esteem or other factor in the individual, it should be effective. The results indicated that there was no significant difference in the word puzzle score between the three conditions. This research showed that wish did not affect the participants’ performance in the word puzzle test.


Walking under ladders, opening umbrellas indoors and breaking mirrors are all actions that are believed to bring unfortunate; it seems people are just as superstitious when it comes to bringing about good luck too. ‘People also create their own superstitions and rituals in the belief it will change their fortunes.’ Nearly 6 millions of people in UK admit to being superstitious. Why do people believe in things that cannot be explained and what leads to superstitious behavior? Most conceivable reason is that it is individuals’ fear of the unknown that drives them to believe in superstitions. External locus of control from own cultural beliefs is another potential explanation to superstitious behaviors. Media also plays an important role in reinforcing superstitious beliefs such as horror movies, it is a powerful source that makes superstition exist in the world, e.g. ghost, supernatural experiences.

Superstitious is often defined as “excessively credulous belief in and reverence for the supernatural”. It can also be defined as, “irrational beliefs, especially with regard to the unknown” according to the Collins English Dictionary. Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, Richard Wiseman, once said ‘People can create luck and good fortune by changing their outlook on life, focusing on grabbing opportunities and creating positive expectations.’ He also believe that some people actually want to be unlucky because it helps them to avoid taking responsibility for their own failings, actions that turn out to be harmful, immoral, or stupid.

Superstitious behaviour can also be caused by intuitive thinking that is gained through past experiences. In support to this, researchers had carried out research on pigeons, superstitious actions that are by chance co-occur with the expected outcome, and subjects continue to appear to do so through conditioning process. This shows that stimulus has reinforcing value and can set up superstitious behaviour. (Skinner, 1948)

There are negative and positive consequences in superstition. In the traditionally unlucky ghost month (July) in Taiwan, the evidence points to reduced fatalities by drowning. (Yang et. al 2008) It seems that being superstitious can sometimes be a positive thing as some superstitious beliefs prevents fatal accidents like the research I mentioned above (Yang et al 2008). Kevin Abbott, a biologist at Carleton University in Ottawa said, “From an evolutionary perspective, superstitions seem maladaptive,” It plays an important role in human evolution which affects human behaviour.

On the other hand, superstitious has its own negative consequences too. In situations over which people have no control (lotteries), superstitious behaviours are a waste of time. However, when some level of control does exist —such as car accidents — the consequences may be more negative than this. There is some evidence for increased car accident rates on Friday 13th relative to other Fridays, though it is argumentative. (Scanlon et al., 1993; N?ayh?a, 2002; Radun & Summala, 2004) It is believed that it is the distraction caused by anxiety as the presumed mechanism.

The goal of this research is to test whether wishing participants “good luck” with the word puzzle will give better performance at the puzzle than nothing. The method of research for this study will be a distribution of a word puzzle generated by the experimenter to the Warwick Undergraduates and their families and friends. The question is whether wishing them “good luck” with the prize draw will affect their puzzle performance. Gender and age data will also be collected. Looking at the data examined and studied so far are the following proposed predictions: If there is a specific superstitious belief in invoked, it should not be effective: Their belief in luck for the prize draw should not affect puzzle performance. If, however, the phrase “good luck” affects a more general mood, self-esteem or other factor in the individual, it should be effective.



For this research, 241 participants took part which included Psychology Undergraduates from University of Warwick and their families and friends( Undergraduates from other departments in Warwick) from 17 through 45 (M= 19.49, SD= 3.15). The participants consisted of 110 females and 131 males. They were not volunteers or getting paid. The department of Psychology in Warwick decided there would be a ?50 Amazon Voucher lucky draw for all participants after they had completed the word puzzle (only for Warwick students outside of Psychology).


The independent variable in this research was the condition participants were put in – “Good luck with prize draw”, “Good luck with task” and “No wish”. The dependant variable was the number of words they got from the word puzzle. It was an independent Measures ANOVA (Between Subjects ANOVA) with three groups and one condition.


An informed consent sheet with Word Puzzle which consisted letters such as: U E P C I I L O S U R T attached at the back.


The study began by gaining the participants’ consent which they signed and put down their email address and personal information such as age, sex on the consent form. Participants were informed that once they had completed the experiment, they would be entered into a random prize draw with other participants for a ?50 Amazon voucher. As the offer only opened to Warwick student outside of Psychology, the department would use their contact address to check that whether they were eligible and to contact them if they won. In this experiment, participants were allocated to three different conditions: 1: “Good luck with prize draw”, 2: “Good luck with task” and 3: “No wish”. In the first condition, experimenter would wish them good luck on the prize draw before they began to complete task. In the second condition, experiment would wish them good luck on the task and in the third condition, the experimenter would say nothing and let them begin. They were required to complete the word puzzle, to create as many English words as they could from the set of letters: U E P C I I L O S U R T. They were only allowed to use a letter twice if it appeared twice in the list that was in the case: I; they were asked to complete the task within two minutes. Following completion of the task, experimenter would note condition (e.g. 1, 2, 3). The experiment were completely anonymous, instead of names, we used numbers to identify the participants. All data would remain strictly confidential. Participants were then debriefed at the end and were told that they had the right to withdraw any consent given, and to require that their own data such as the score they got from the task, their email, be destroyed.


The mean and standard deviation of the scores for condition “Good luck with prize draw” was (M=14.1, SD=7.6), Condition “Good luck with task” was (M=15.2, SD=8.1) and Condition “No wish” was (M=14, SD=6.5). There was no significant difference between the three wish groups as determined by one-way ANOVA in the ability of getting higher score in the word puzzle. (F (2,238) =0.682, p > .05). A Tukey post-hoc test revealed that the score gained from the participants have no significant difference in the condition “Good luck with prize draw (14.1 ± 7.6, p = 0.616) and the condition “No wish” (14.0 ± 6.5, p = 0.536) course compared to the condition “Good luck with task” (15.2 ± 8.1). There was no statistically significant differences between the condition “Good luck with prize draw” and the condition “No wish” (p = .990).


Our hypothesis was that wishing participants “good luck” with the word puzzle will give better performance at the puzzle than nothing. The data obtained did not support our hypothesis as there was no significant difference in the score from the three conditions.

In this study, we used the one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) to determine whether there are any significant differences between the means of three independent variables (the three conditions). Although the one-way ANOVA could not tell us which specific groups were significantly different from each other, it tells us that at least two groups were different.

Age differences was an issue in this research, the fact that the participants’ age ranged 17-45. As we grow older, we would know more words than we did when we were younger. Age of the respondents seemed to better explain some ethical differences among respondents in some situations. This is in line with earlier research that found that people tend to be more ethical as they grow older (Weber and Green, 1991;Terpstra et al., 1993). It is not appropriate to use participants that have a large range in age.

Our findings can be generalised to the whole populations as there is no significant difference in the score in the three conditions. In this research, we would say that the wish does not affect the puzzle performance because of a superstitious belief as proved by the results. In the future research on this topic, researchers should use participants that have similar age to make it an ethical test and that wish does not work of a specific superstitious belief or because the wish is a positive sentiment.


BBC. (2010). Superstitions: Friday 13th – unlucky for you? . Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/newsenglish/britain/superstitions.shtml. Last accessed 9th Feb 2014.

Berrill,A. (2012). Isn’t it all pants? One in six superstitious Brits refuse to walk under ladders, while over 800,000 admit to having lucky underwear. Available: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2230328/Britons-superstitions-Walking-ladders-breaking-mirrors-opening-umbrellas-indoors.html. Last accessed 9th Feb 2014.

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Mills, C. (2011). Superstitions Have Evolutionary Basis. Available: http://www.livescience.com/14504-superstitions-evolutionary-basis-lucky-charms.html. Last accessed 10th Feb 2014.

Sidani,Y., Zbib,I., Rawwas,M.,Moussawer, T. (2009). Gender, age, and ethical sensitivity. Gender, age, and ethical sensitivity: the case of Lebanese workers. 24 (1), 211-227

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