Tulane marketing professor conducts study on value of superstitions


Pictured above is a common superstition, Friday the 13th, which people believe to be unlucky. According to Hamerman’s study, people generally associate superstitions with performance goals.

Robert Marchini, Staff Reporter

Tulane marketing professor Eric Hamerman has published a new study in the March 2015 edition of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin on superstitions and their role in the marketing world.

Hamerman researched the motivation behind performance goals and personal goals, which vary in the source of motivation behind them.

“Performance goals are other people giving approval, and learning goals are personal ones,” Hamerman said. “A learning goal is something like ‘I want to master this material,’ versus ‘I want to get an A,’ which is a performance goal.”

Hamerman studied the likelihood that an individual would use superstitions to influence the outcome of his or her goals. While the study did not find that superstitions work, it did find that people are only likely to use superstitions on performance goals.

“We consistently found, over a set of six studies, that people were likely to turn to superstition or luck for performance goals, but not for learning goals,” Hamerman said.

Hamerman said this phenomenon originates in human reactions to external evaluations of our performance. While there are other important factors, such as uncertainty, the study found that people value luck more highly in situations where someone else is judging their performance.

“It’s not just the uncertainty, because even when learning goals are uncertain, I still rely on myself — it’s intrinsically motivated. I rely on luck when it’s outside, when someone else is making that judgment,” Hamerman said.

Madeleine Nicholson, a junior studying public health and international development, said she thinks this tendency is psychological.

“I think it is all mental,” Nicholson said. It fits into routine, and I feel it furthers my goals, even if it theoretically does not,” Nicholson said.

The study was supported by the A.B. Freeman School’s research budget, and Hamerman has planned to follow up in the future. He wished to study additional aspects such as demographic differences. The study was co-authored by Carey Morewedge of Boston University, a colleague in the group of researchers studying these psychological phenomena. Hamerman says he became interested in studying this academically after seeing sports superstitions.

“I used to have season tickets to the Dallas Mavericks, and I got really interested in the crazy superstitions that people have around sports,” Hamerman said. “I began thinking that these are all really educated people, so there has to be an interesting phenomenon here.”

Hamerman said his study suggests that people tend to be happier and healthier when they focus on learning goals, instead of just performance goals.

“I think that’s really the implication: If you focus on the intrinsic goals within ourselves, while everything else may not fall into place, I think people tend to be a lot happier,” Hamerman said.

Leave a Comment