Problem: For 18 years or so, I somehow managed to avoid learning that you were supposed to throw salt over your shoulder when you spilled it, to avoid bad luck. So when I spilled some salt in my college dining hall and my friends yelled at me to throw it over my shoulder, I panicked and threw the whole shaker.
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Some people are very adamant about their superstitions. Knock on wood if you tempt fate, don’t name the Scottish play in a theater, lest you draw the ire of Lady Luck. In our brains, we know that tossing salt doesn’t really prevent bad things from happening; it just makes the ground salty. Previous research has shown that these rituals give people a sense of control, but a new study in The Journal of Experimental Psychology looks at why we choose particular rituals to get rid of our bad luck.
Methodology: The researchers hypothesized that rituals such as knocking on wood or throwing salt would be especially effective at making people feel like they are pushing away bad luck, because the physical action exerts force away from the self.
They had participants engage in a scripted conversation with an experimenter, a conversation which the experimenter eventually turned to car accidents or disease. Some participants had neutral responses to choose from, some had ones that tempted fate, such as “I’m certain that everyone I know will be 100% safe.”