January 23, 2018
Pink and blue sneakers on a green grass

How Lucky Charms Help Athletes

by Berkeley Wellness  

Many athletes have their lucky charms and pregame rituals: Michael Jordan supposedly wore his old blue college shorts under his uniform; Serena Williams reportedly wears the same socks throughout a tennis tournament.

We hate to encourage superstitions—that is, beliefs that an object or action not logically related to a course of events will influence its outcome. But, in fact, scientists have found that superstitious beliefs may help, at least for people doing physical or mental tasks. This was seen in a series of experiments at the University of Cologne, in Germany. For instance, when students were told to bring in a lucky charm and then did memory tests or word games, they performed better when they had their charms than when the charms were left in another room; they also felt more confident when they had their charms.

Good luck charms and superstitious rituals may reduce tension, create a feeling of control, and boost your belief in your ability to succeed (“self-efficacy”). Like the placebo effect, they can encourage hope, optimism, and confidence. Charms are no substitute for talent and hard training, but “engaging in superstitious thoughts and behaviors may be one way to reach one’s top level of performance,” the researchers concluded, pointing to Michael Jordan’s lucky undergear.

Also see The Power of Hope.