Superstition and contingency

Source: (CC0)

Source: (CC0)


Superstition predicts perception of illusory control

In 2018, Mike Le Pelley, Noor Shehabi, Robin Murphy and I published data showing that people who are highly superstitious have an altered perception of contingency. This is important, because we normally use contingency information as a clue to figure out when two events are causally related (e.g. if kissing the dice reliably predicts rolling a six, then we might conclude that kissing the dice causes them to show sixes).

We arranged a task in which a light illuminating was non-contingent upon pressing a button (i.e. it lit up just as often when the button was pressed, as when it was not). This scenario often leads to an illusion of causation, whereby people think pressing the button makes the light illuminate even though it actually has no effect. The important finding was that this illusion was significantly larger in people who are highly superstitious.

As a bonus, we validated a new measure of superstition. All materials are available using the links below:

Article: Available at British Journal of Psychology


Questionnaire: Click here to download the questionnaire.

Citation: Griffiths, O., Shehabi, N., Murphy, R. A., & Le Pelley, M. E. (2018). Superstition predicts perception of illusory control. British Journal of Psychology. DOI:10.1111/bjop.12344

If you are interested in this result, you may also be interested in Fernando Blanco’s recent observation (link) that when people who endorse paranormal ideas perform this task, they are more likely to behave in a way that exposes them to causal illusions.