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Can you affect your fortune by bad luck rituals such as touching wood?

3149480819_c779ebf78e_zA headline in the Telegraph tell us that research has established that we can affect our fortune by engaging in ritual responses to avert bad luck.  “Bad luck really can be reversed by touching wood ritual say scientists,” it proclaims.  Then you read the report to discover that it says nothing of the sort.  What the researchers, from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business actually claim in the Journal of Experimental Psychology is that the rituals affect people’s concerns about their fortune, not the actual fortune itself.  Rituals that involve pushing something away or exerting force make people more likely to feel they have pushed bad luck away.  So striking wood and saying “touch wood” or throwing spilled salt over your shoulder make you feel that you have averted future misfortune.

This is not about changing the universe, it is about changing the way you feel about the universe.  Yes, you go through the ritual and feel that you have somehow affected future things you have no control over.  This is not very different from dancing round a totem pole and chanting in order to bring rain.  Both give the illusion, a comforting illusion, that you can control the uncontrollable and alter events in your favour.  It is just possible that this feeling that you have warded off misfortune might change your behaviour in ways that make bad things less likely to happen.  On the other hand, it might just as well make you more reckless, feeling that you have averted bad stuff and therefore not being as cautious about avoiding it.  I tend to the view that these rituals, some of which date back millennia, comfort us, and that’s why we do them.  They don’t actually change things, just our thoughts about things.

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3 Responses

  1. I’m not sure. I stopped reading pseudo-science stories in the major media and my luck has improved enormously. Or I think it has…

    • I had a similar experience. I stopped touching wood and crossing my fingers and my luck started to deteriorate. I realized what I thought was wood was plastic coated chipboard and it didn’t work. However, crossing my fingers did seem to be OK so I hope that my renewed strokes of luck will, fingers crossed, stand me in good stead.

  2. I agree entirely with your point of view and I am convinced that every individual faces challenges and decisions which are the real driving force to success or failure in our lives. What is luck ? It arrives at the most unexpected moments but again it can be the result of much pre-planning and fingers crossed, the outcome is a good one. Hang on…..fingers crossed, what is that ? Well, touch wood nothing bad……if you get the gist.

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