And, indeed, the participants who were in the presence of their charm performed better on the memory task and reported increased self-efficacy. A final study sought to determine exactly how the increased confidence that comes along with a lucky charm influences performance. Specifically, was it making participants set loftier goals for themselves? Was it increasing their persistence on the task? Turns out, it’s both. Participants in the charm-present conditions reported setting higher goals on an anagram task and demonstrated increased perseverance on the task (as measured by the amount of time they spent trying to solve it before asking for help).
So what does this all mean? Should you start scouring the earth for four-leaf clovers? Establish a quirky early morning pre-work routine to increase your productivity? Sadly, if you believe the results reported in this article, none of that will do you any good. The influence of the charm depends crucially on your belief in its inherent powers. Once you acknowledge that performance is a function of what goes on in your brain rather than a product of any mystical properties of the object itself, it becomes useless. That feeling of “I can do this” will wither away as soon as you realize that nothing external, nothing mystical, will influence how you perform – it’s just you and your abilities. Like the science of astronomy strips the starry night of its magic, the science of the mind strips your superstitions of their power. You’d be better off following the model of Walt Whitman: throw on your lucky fedora and forget you ever read this article.
Are you a scientist? Have you recently read a peer-reviewed paper that you want to write about? Then contact Mind Matters co-editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe, where he edits the Sunday Ideas section. He can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com