Current Psychology

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 68–84 | Cite as

Competition, superstition and the illusion of control



The effects of reinforcement schedule and competition on generating superstitious behaviors and beliefs were examined in 72 people. Superstition was induced by having participants respond to turn on a tone under a concurrent 2—lever Variable Interval (VI) Extinction (EXT) schedule. During the session, stimulus lights would occasionally be illuminated, although they did not signal any change in contingency. Attributing importance to the inactive lever, a pattern of switching between levers, or to the illumination of the lights were considered to be superstitious beliefs. Participants were either run alone or in pairs, and manipulation of the reinforcement schedule resulted in groups which were matched in probability of reinforcement, as well as in groups which were mismatched. Reinforcement schedule (VI 30” versus VI 60”) and competitive situation did not affect degree of superstitious belief, except when people were placed in a “winning” condition. However, Superstition was associated with participants’ belief in improved future performance and with participants’ perceived skill relative to their opponents. Results are discussed in terms of relationships between superstition, the illusion of control, and self-efficacy. Differences between experimentally-induced and commonly held superstitions are also discussed.


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Copyright information

© Springer 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Muhlenberg CollegeUSA

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