Jason "Jay" Labore

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 Superstition and Locus of Control: A New Interpretation
Background Research Question Method
Results Implications Relevant Links


     The subject of superstition has been researched by numerous investigators each using a variety of approaches.  Some researchers use an approach that focuses on paranormal beliefs in superstition.  Others use a behavioral approach to study superstition. 
     B. F. Skinner was the first researcher to link behavioral research to paranormal beliefs.  Skinner studied pigeons in operant chambers and found that in variable-interval trials, pigeons would perform an action oriented toward certain areas of the cage.  These behaviors were not necessary to receiving a food reward, but the pigeons believed the behaviors were.
     Locus of Control is an attributional style which describes how one believes in luck and how luck affects outcomes in one's life.  One with a more external locus of control believes that fate, charms and other ideas often unrelated to a situation, can change the outcome of that particular situation positively or negatively.  One with a more internal locus of control believes that one can change one's own luck through one's own efforts.
     Superstition and Locus of Control are often paired in research, but conclusions are often not strong.  In behavioral research, very little correlation has been performed, and those that have are insignificant.  In paranormal research, superstition often correlates negativey with locus of control.  That is, as locus of control becomes more internal, superstition becomes less apparent.


Research Question
      What is the relationship between superstition and one's personal beliefs?


     Participants were selected from a small Northeast College of Roman Catholic affiliation.  A total of twenty-eight participants engaged in a two part study which lasted about one hour.
     Participants began by taking the Internal/External Locus of Control Scale-Revised.  This questionnaire determines one's locus of control on a scale ranging from highly external (low scores) to highly internal (high scores) control.
     Participants were then required to play blackjack.  The tournament style blackjack had very few rules modifications from Las Vegas style blackjack and consisted of twenty hands.  The games were video recorded and scored using multiple raters at a later time.  Raters were instructed to look for behaviors that could be considered superstitious.  Only those behaviors which all raters agreed to as superstitious were scored.



     Particpants' superstition scores were determined and three superstition subscores were calculated.  A total superstition score was determined which considered all behaviors that would be considered superstitious.  This included betting patterns.  It was found that more than 66% of the participants engaged in bet patterns regularly in superstitious ways.  Many participants verbally admitted to these behaviors.  Bet pattern superstitions would include how many credits one would bet. For example, if one would lose, one may return to a bet of two.  If one wins, one may continue the same bet until one loses.  If one deviates from a winning bet and loses, one would return to the original winning bet.
     A second subscore eliminated bet patterns and found that only seven participants engaged in superstitious behavior not using bet behaviors.
     A third subscore was determined that used the same requirements as the second subscore, but eliminated participants that did not engage in superstitious behavior.
     Significance was found in the third subscore where a moderate negative correlation suggested that superstition may be dependent on locus of control, but can be a property of both internal and external locus of control.  The correlation suggests that as one's locus of control becomes more internal, one's belief in superstition is not as strong.



     Findings from this research suggest that superstition and locus of control are dependent upon each other.  In addition, those with internal locus of control are capable of displaying superstitious behavior.  This research suggests that locus of control can be investigated with behavioral superstition even though historically it has not been a focus of many studies.
     Since this research suggests that behavioral superstition can be investigated with locus of control, and previous research suggests that paranormal superstition can be investigated with locus of control, it seems that research from this point on should not discriminate between paranormal and behavioral superstition and treat it as one behavioral concept.

Relevant Links
  • A great link with many psychological tests and fun articles.
  • Learn more on  Stuart Vyse, a leading researcher in the field of superstition.
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