Situational Factors on Consumers

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Investigation of the effects of situational factors on consumers’ buying products with superstitious association

1.0 Introduction

Research questions:

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(1) Are Chinese consumers always more likely to purchase products with lucky associations? If not, under what circumstances do Chinese consumers show higher willingness to buy such products and the underlying process.

(2) Can the attributes of all kinds of products can be linked with lucky associations? If not, what kinds of products can be taken into account when marketers want to link their original attribuite with superstitious associations?

(3) Do consumers show the same perception towards different attributes with superstitious associations? If not, which attribute is more suitable to be linked with superstitious association.

(4) Are attributes with lucky associations of certain products the more the better? If not, how many attributes are considered suitable to be linked with superstitious associations?

(5) Do consumers want to pay premium for certain product of which the attributes with lucky associations? If yes, do different types of consumers want to pay the same premium to certain lucky attribute?

(6) What is the long-term attitude of consumers towards the products with superstitious-related attributes?

2.0 Literature review

2.1 What is superstition?

2.1.1 The concept of superstition

Superstitions are beliefs that run counter to rational thought or are inconsistent with known laws of nature (Vyse, 1997).

Superstition is a belief, or set of belief, that specific actions can directly influence the occurrence of desirable outcomes or the avoidance of undesirable outcomes when, in fact, the actions are not causally related to the outcomes (Carlson, Mowen, & Fang, 2009, p. 691).

Superstitions are attitudes individually held by people which related their existence to a general order of the cosmos, but which are not based on empirical evidence nor incorporated within the institutionalized belief systems of a society, as defined by leading representatives of these systems at any given time (Jarvis, 1980, p. 295).

Superstition is (1) fundamentally irrational; (2) popularly accepted; (3) usually influences the behavior of the holder; (4) may be a belief in supernatural phenomena in the conventional sense; (5) has no sound evidence of personal experience to support it; and (6) may have arisen spontaneously and spread without ever having had the sanction of authority (Levitt, 1952).

Ono (1987) define superstitious behavior as behavior produced by response-independent schedules of reinforcer delivery, in which only an accidental relation exists between responses and delivery of reinforcers.

J. Rudski (2001) believe that in operant behavior, an instrumental response is strengthened when it is followed by a desired consequence. Occasionally, the desired outcomes occur independently of actual responding, yet people still attribute a causal relationship between the two. Such an attribution can be called a superstitious belief.

2.1.2 The typology of superstition

Magic thinking is a belief that (a) transfer of energy or information between physical systems may take place solely because of their similarity or contiguity in time and space, or (b) that one’s thoughts, words, or actions can achieve specific physical effects in a manner not governed by the principles of ordinary transmission of energy or information (Zusne & Jones, 1989, p. 13)

Superstitions are rooted in magic thinking (Jahoda, 1969; Keinan, 1994, 2002; Zusne & Jones, 1989)

2.2 Superstition in marketplace

Recent years witness the fast development of research of superstition in marketplace. There are two research lines in this field: first line is to explore the antecedents and consequences of superstition using modeling; the other line is to know consumers’ attitude towards superstition in marketing and how superstition influence consumers’ decision making.

2.2.1 The model of superstition in consumer behavior context

Mowen and Carlson are the advocators of the first line. In Mowen & Carlson (2003), they employed a hierarchical model of personality to investigate a number of possible trait antecedents and consumer-behavior-related consequences of superstition. One of the interesting findings is that the antecedents of superstition include a lower need for learning among older adults, higher levels of sports interest, a belief in fate, and a decreased belief in heaven and hell. In addition, the results suggest that the consequences of superstition might include beliefs in astrology, magic, psychokinesis, and the existence of fictitious creatures. Evidence suggesting a negative association between superstitious beliefs and attitudes concerning the genetic engineering of food products is also obtained. Based on this research, Carlson, Mowen, & Fang (2009) further demonstrate the relationship between trait superstition and consumer behavior. A new measure of trait superstition is developed and a nomological net of its consequences and antecedents identified: they found that trait superstition influence traditional superstitious behaviors such as keeping good luck charms and forwarding emails; they also found that trait superstition influence consumer activities in which outcomes are uncertain and are likely to be influenced by chance. These activities includesport fanship, gambling interest, stock market involvment and promotional games; moreover, trait superstition is predictive of a wide variety of consumer beliefs such as belief in astrology and in common negative superstitions (i.e. fearing black cat) this research reveal a set of antecedents of trait superstition.

This two papers lay the foundation of research about the relationship between superstition and consumers’ trait and the consequences. One criticsm of the model mentioned above is by Vaidyanathan, Aggarwal, Cha, & Chun (2007). They mentioned that Mowen & Carlson (2003)’s model is narrow in that it does not provide an adequate explanation for a variety of superstitious behaviors that are not based on a lack of belief in science. In addition, this model fail to recognize the differences between superstition in modern society and traditional superstition and ignore instrumental-based and social-based superstition. Thus, Vaidyanathan, et al.(2007) proposed a new model named a need-satisfaction model of superstitious behavior that classifies the needs met by superstitious behavior into (1) function need, (2) psychological needs, and (3) social needs. More specifically, they mentioned that the operating principle underlying functional need satisfaction is the illusory of control; the operating principle underlying the psychological need satisfaction of superstitious behavior is counterfatual thinking; the operating principle underlying the social need satisfaction dimension of superstitious behavior is social learning.

2.2.2 The influence of superstition on consumer decision making

The second research stream is about the effects of superstition on consumers’ decision making. Literature in this line at early stage mainly foscus on Chinese consumers’superstitious-related perception to the specific number, color and letter. For example, Ang (1997) showed that Chinese consumers consistently regarded A and S to be lucky letters and F and Z to be unlucky letters. The lucky number is 8 while 4 is considered unlucky. Moreover, he also found that brand name with lucky letters and numbers are perceived more favorably than those with unlucky letters and numbers. The ramifications of a lucky brand name are wide ranging from perception that the brand is lucky, to being successful, and to having superior quality. Thus, in the absence of other information, Chinese consumers make inferences about product characteristics and success based on brand name. Several following papers, from different perspective verified Ang (1997)’s demonstration. Bourassa & Peng (1999) use hedonic price analysis to investigate whether house values are affected by lucky and unlucky numbers. Results show that lucky house numbers are capitalised into house values among Chinese households in Aucland, NZ. More precisely, houses with lucky numbers sold for an average 2.4 percent premium. Chau, Ma, & Ho (2001) use Hong Kong data to verify this phenonmen again. They show that consumer are willing to pay a premium for a “lucky” property in Hong Kong. A lucky floor number such as 8, 18, 28 etc. has been shown to be a valuable attribute, although it does not bring about any observable tangible benefit for the tenants living in these units. They also mentioned that the demand for such attribute is very volatile: during property booms, the demand for such an attribute is high due to the superstition and show-off effects so during these period, consumers are more willing to pay a higher premium for lucky floor numbers; however, during a slump period, the demand for such an intangible attribute of a property declines quickly. Cai, Cai, & Keasey (2007) analyse the impact of cultural factors on both price clustering and price resistance in China’s stock market. The results show support the presence of cultural factors impacting on price clustering with the digit 8 showing a higher propensity for clustering and the digits 4 and 7 showing a lowing propensity in the A-share market, where stock is denominated in Renminbi and traded by mainland Chinese. The other paper is Simmons & Schindler (2003). They showed that the superstitious meanings attached to certain digits in traditional Chinese culture correspond to the use of those digits in the endings of advertised prices. They found that the digit 8, associated with properity and good luck, to be overrepresented among the price endings used in Chinese advertising; digit 4, associated with death, to be underrepresented among price endings. Furthermore, both results are consistent across different price-ending measures and across three diverse communities of chinese society.

The research mentioned above only reveal the superstitious-related phenomone, not detailed analysis the reasons why people show willingness to use superstition in decision making. Tsang (2004) filled this gap. He discussed the relationship between superstition and business decision-making in chinese business communities and showed that the reason why Chinese businessman want to use superstition to help make decision is that superstition helps people cope with uncertainty through providing an additional source of information and reducing uncertainty induced anxiety, which correspond to the informational and psychological aspects of uncertainty respectively. In his paper, he also mentioned that the condition of using superstition in decision making which is that the decision is very important or the situation is uncertain. This condition is the same as what psychological research about superstition points out.

Next, two papers by Kramer and Block push the research of superstition in markeplaces into the frontline. These two papers, both using experimental methodologies, investigate superstitious symbols (such as digit 8 and color red in Chinese culture) do influence the purchasing attitude and behaviors of superstitious individuals. Specifically, in Kramer & Block (2008), the authors pointed out that superstitious beliefs may be a source of information relied upon in evaluation and satisfaction judgements through an automatic process. More precisely, the superstitious associations that individuals hold concerning an object’s attribute (e.g. color) will influence how well they believe the object itself should perform. The authors verify that following product failure, Chinese consumers will be less satisfied with a product for which they hold positive (vs. neutral) superstitious associations because Chinese consumers show higher performance expectations to the product with superstitious-related attributes. In addition, this paper found the evidence of the role of nonconscious processing in the effect of superstition. In this research, the nonconscious component of superstition is greater than the conscious part. Block & Kramer (2009) based on their last paper further propose that product attributes with superstitious associations influence performance expectations that in turn determine purchase likelihood and subsequent satisfaction after product failure. More precisely, consumers will be more likely to purchase a product with which they have positive superstitious associations as compared to a product with which they do not have any and the differences in purchase likelihood are driven by superstition-based performance expectations. In addition, they show that consumers will be less satisfaied with a product for which they hold positive (vs. neutral) superstitious associations following instances of both negative and positive expectation disconfirmation and expectation disconfirmation sensitivity is considered as a moderator of the impact of superstitious beliefs on product satisfaction. Therefore, incorporating superstitious elements into products can be viewed as a two-side sword because raising expectations with positive superstitious associations may initially induce purchase, but subsequently decrease repurchase rates or positive word-of-mouth as these high expectations are difficult to meet or exceed.

2.2.3 Research gaps

In the research stream about the effects of superstition on consumers’ decision making, although extant literature (Block & Kramer, 2009) has verifed the relationship between products with (and without) superstitious attributes and purchase likelihood, two research gaps are left to be filled: (1) From the vertical comparison of product with superstitious-related attributes, under what circumstances do superstitious consumers show higher willingness to buy products with superstitious-related attributes and the underlying process. (different products?) (2) From the horizontal comparison of products with and without lucky attributes, whether superstitious consumers always prefer the products with superstitious-related attributes to the products with nonsuperstitious-related attributes?

personal trait product with superstitious-based attributes, state (Keinan, 1994, p. 52)

Situational and environmental variables

In order to answer the first question, I start from the psyclogical literature and find out when superstition happens and why it happens. Then, I will link the psychological research about superstition with superstitious consumers’ attitude towards product with lucky attributes. Regarding the second question, I will focus on one important factor that influence consumer decision making: information uncertainty towards a product.

2.3 Psychological research on superstition

The pervasiveness of superstition in everyday life has long been a concern of psychologists, including researchers, educators, and clinicians (Zusne & Jones, 1989) and recent years witness an increasing interest in the study of superstitious beliefs. The studies of superstitious beliefs are important since they can help inform or refine our understanding of the interconnections among imagination, cognition, personality, and culture and then how these associations may produce phenomena like cognitive illusions and delusional thinking (Huang & Teng, 2009). Some findings have already been obtained. In answering what kinds of superstition and magic thinking exist, researchers have mentioned several superstitious behaviors such as carrying lucky charms (Wiseman & Watt, 2004), knock on wood (Keinan, 2002), keep the fingers crossed (Damisch, 2008; Vyse, 1997), avoid walking under ladders (Pole, Berenson, Sass, Young, & Blass, 1974). Furthermore, study have showed that people who seems to be especially likely to exhibit superstition are gamblers (Joukhador, Blaszczynski, & Maccallum, 2004), athletes (Bleak & Frederick, 1998; Todd & Brown, 2003) and students (Albas & Albas, 1989; Felson & Gmelch, 1979) because they all face situations in a performance context, which elicit pressure, psychological tension, and feeling of anxiety (Schippers & Lange, 2006). There are two explanations why under such circumstances do people use superstition: first one is that stress undermines perceived control (Friedland, Keinan, & Regev, 1992). As undermined perceptions of control have been associated with negative psychological and physical consequences (Abramson, Seligman, & Teasdale, 1978), people, therefore, attempt to do something to regain perceptions of control and superstition is the very one people want to use (Keinan, 1994, 2002; Matute, 1995). Here, as people who engage in superstitious behavior are often aware that their behaviour is unreasonable or irrational but find it difficult to rid themselves of such behavior (George Gmelch & Felson, 1980), the purpose of superstition is not a means to an end to control over the outcomes but to offer the comfort of feeling in control. In other words, superstition is considered a secondary control (Case, Fitness, Cairns, & Stevenson, 2004). The second explanation is from the perspective of self-efficacy. It has been showed that by helping the individual overcome mental obstacles in performance-related situation, the implementation of a good luck superstition prior to a performance task leads to an increase in perceived self-efficacy towards the required activity, which in turn improves the final performance (Damisch, 2008). One up-to-date research, although does not mention self-efficacy directly, verified that a temporary change in perceptions of luck (an enhanced self-efficacy belief) is performed as a mediating variable between superstition and performance and lucky primes increase consumers’ risky preference (Jiang, Cho, & Adaval, 2009).

2.3.1 Superstitious people

Current literature has reported that several groups of people are more superstitious. These groups include: financial investors, gamblers, athletes, students. Superstitious financial investors

The former chairman of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Leo Melamed in his autobiography mention that “most traders, whether they admit it or not, are superstitious. Some have a lucky tie that they must wear every day, some use a lucky pencil, others drive to work down the same streets, and so on. ” (Melamed & Tamarkin, 1996)

Many Hong Kong tycoons will not go ahead with a building or a financial investment without seeking the advice of a Feng Shui consultant (Tsang, 2004).


Kolb & Rodriguez (1987) verified that superstition may play a role in the performance of the securities market. They investigated whether the mean return for Friday the Thirteenth is statistically different from the mean return for other Fridays. They used the sample periods between July 1 1962 and December 31 1985, which includes thirty-nine occurrences of Friday the Thirteenth and using t-test, found that mean returns for Friday the Thirteenth are lower than those of other Fridays. One follow-up study is Lepori (2009). He tested whether superstition-induced behavior affects investment decisions. Similar as Kolb & Rodriguez he focused on a phenomenon that is typically interpreted as bad omens by the superstitious both in Asian and Western societies: beliefs associated with eclipses and employed a dataset containing 362 such events over the period 1928-2008. Using four broad indices of the US stock market, he uncovered strong evidence that the occurrence of negative superstitious events (i.e. eclipses) is associated with below average stock returns, which is consistent with a diminished buying pressure coming from the superstition. He also extended his analysis to a sample of Asian countries and found analogous results. Superstitious gamblers

The outcome of most game of chance are random events, completely out of the player’s control (Vyse, 1997). However, most gamblers have their own way to exert their control over the outcome: engaging superstitious strategies.

The concept of superstition in the context of gambling is defined as “gestures whether verbal or non-verbal that are deployed and believed to effect the game when there is no empirical connection between that and the outcome (Henslin, 1967, p. 318)” and it is one subset of an array of important cognitive distortions identified as contributing to the false belief that one can influence the outcome of a chance event (Toneatto, 1999). Superstition exists in most gambling activities and other games of chance (Joukhador, et al., 2004). One of the most revealing research is a study of craps players by Henslin (1967). Craps is a wagering pure-chance game played with dice and there is no skill involved in throwing dice. Henslin, nonetheless, found that the crap players employed a lot of strategies that they believed increased their chance to win. For example, players will touch the dice softly for wishing a low number and throw the dice hard to bring a high one. Also snapping one’s fingers is considered to be lucky. Just as Henslin mentioned “the shooter will frequently point with his index finger close to the die, wait until the die has slowed down.” Not only crap players employ superstition, later research also showed that bingo players use superstitious strategies such as feelings, hunches and psi, attitudes, and luck to neutralize their marginally deviant behaviors (King, 1990); players also perform superstitious way when playing slot machine: 38% of all their speech can be regarded as irrational and 80% of their strategic statements are irrational (Walker, 1992).

Later a series of studies using experimental method to verify that gamblers indeed want to superstitiously control the outcome of the pure-chance game.

Rothbart & Snyder (1970) use a procedure in which subjects rolled a die and bet on the outcome, it was found that subjects predicting the outcome before the die was rolled bet more money and reported greater confidence in being correct that subjects postdicting the outcome after the die had already been rolled. The results were interpreted as support for the hypothesis that a form of magic thinking mediates the frequently reported positive relationship between subject’s desire for a particular outcome and his estimate of that outcome’s likelihood of occurrence.

Wohl & Enzle (2002) find that having choice in a game of chance heightened both perceived personal luck and perceived chance of winning. In the following experiment, hypothesis are tested based on the proposition that luck perceived as a personal quality follows the laws of sympathetic magic. The results show that the participants act as though luck could be transmitted from themselves to a wheel of fortune and thereby positively affect their perceived chance of winning.

Wohl & Enzle (2009) investigate how perceptions of other people’s luck are used in an attempt to maximize one’s own outcomes. More specifically, it was hypothesized that people will defer to a lucky other in games of chance to maximize winning potential. In experiment 1, participants are told that they would receive a scratch-and win lottery ticket as a gratuity for participating. As hypothesized, participants are more likely to allow a confederate to either pick their lottery ticket if they perceived the confederate to be personally lucky than is such perceptions where not facilitated. In experiment 2 and 3, participants interacted with a confederate over the Internet. As predicted, participants are more likely to allow a gambling partner (a confederate) to spin a roulette wheel (experiment 2) and bet more money on the outcome of the spin (experiment 3) if they were made to believe their partner is lucky. Superstitious athletes

The popularity of sport combined with the fact that its participants are a traditionally superstitious group make athletes, particularly professional athletes, the most famous of all superstitious people (Vyse, 1997). There is long history in studying the superstitious behavior among athletes. Here one may concern whether the commonly used sport ritual is superstitious behavior. According to Womack (1992), he defined superstitious behavior in sport as actions that are repetitive, formal, sequential, distinct from technical performance, and that the athletes believe to be powerful in controlling luck or other external factors. Here, superstitious behavior focus on bring good luck. Sport rituals is also particular behaviour, however the purpose of ritual is to calm the individual and to provide a predictable routine that allows the person to perform as he or she has practiced and without distractions (Burger & Lynn, 2005). Current literature has revealed that nearly all kinds of sports can be found that athletes perform both rituals and superstitious behaviors. For example, Gregory & Petrie (1975) investigated superstitions among member of six selected Intercollegiate athletic teams and found that sport superstitions were identified with particular activities: (1) hocky – equipment, order and player position; (2) basketball – sinking the last warm-up shot; (3) volleyball – superstitions pertaining to food; (4) swimming – colour of suit; (5) track – clothing, lane numbers and superstitions related to shoes; and (6) tennis – weather and lucky balls. Several follow-up studies verified and supported the different superstitions across different kinds of sports. Bleak & Frederick (1998) found that football rituals were centred around clothing and prayer; gymnasts focuses on team rituals and pregame food rituals; track athletes were the only group that mentioned lucky items of clothing or lucky marking on shoes. Gmelch (1992) showed that American professional players develop and follow a daily routine which is believed to reduce chance and their feelings of uncertainty. These routines include eating the same food and listening to the same songs before the match. Also many players have fetishes or charms which they believe to embody supernatural power that can aid or protect them. These charms include a wide assortment of objects from coins, chains and crucifixes to a favourite baseball hat.

Apart from the investigation of different superstitions in sports, researchers also revealed the timing of superstition happening in one particular sport. For example, Gmelch (1971) found that for baseball player, superstitions hardly occur in fielding where success is 97.5%. However when it comes to hitting and pitching, where the rate of success is only 0.245 and seems to depend on luck and other external circumstances, superstitious rituals are often exhibited. Similarly, Ciborowski (1997) reported a high rate of superstitious practices when games were close or when a team was about to lose, but not when a team was leading comfortably, uncertainty? Superstitious students

Researchers have showed that students employed superstitious strategies during the examination period. Albas & Albas (1989) observed 300 students of University of Manitoba in a number of locations, on and off campus, and conducted many formal and informal interview over thirteen years and estimated that 20% to 33% students used magic, primarily to bring on good luck rather than to ward off bad luck. They divided the student’s exam-related superstitions into two broad categories: the use of lucky objects and the practices of special rituals. Regarding the lucky objects, they showed that some students used common amulets such as rabbit’s feet, dice and coins. The special rituals, they mentioned, were highly private and idiosyncratic. For example, they reported that one student knocked on exam door three times; one student played the song “Money Changes Everything” on the drive to school.

One further study is by Gallagher & Lewis (2001). They used US subjects and found that nearly 70% of students indicated some level of test-related superstitious practice. They also showed that superstitious practice among students was largely independent of religious belief and practice and of gender and race.

Not only students in the context of western culture perform superstitious behavior, many students from eastern culture also employ superstitious strategies. Tsang (2004) reported that many Chinese TOELF candidates, who had applied for scholarships provided by US universities and were waiting for the scholarship offers, went to pray in the Temple of the Lying Buddha in Beijing, China. The similarities of above superstitious groups

When taking a look at the four groups of people who are particularly likely to perform superstition, we can find the similarities of them. Financial market, as mentioned by Lepori (2009), is highly uncertain and the risk is high (Vyse, 1997). Gamblers also face the uncertainty because gambling sometimes is pure chance-determined game and gamblers cannot control over the outcome. Students during examination time and athletes in a match also experience the same thing. According to Damisch (2008), exams and matches are important to students and athletes because they are in the performance context which exist both certainty and uncertainty. The uncertainty components include the difficulty of exams and the level of couterparts in the match. Meanwhile, the outcome of the performance is usually important because students may enter a good university and athletes may win the champion. Thus these characteristics may result pressure, physical tension and feeling axiety. Rationally speaking, people can use the controllable forces to control the certainty and people cannot control the uncertainty things (Burger & Lynn, 2005). However, people, when dealing with uncontrollable events or uncertainty, do not merely wait and see the outcomes happen passively, instead they perform some ways (for example superstition) so that they do something to try to influence the uncontrollable event.

Taken together, regardless of financial investors, gamblers, athletes and students, they face uncertainty and the outcomes which are considered important to them.

So far, I have summarized the similar characters of the superstitious groups and I believe it is these characters that make these groups resort to superstition. In the next paragraphs, I will find further support about whether these factors do influence the occurance of superstition, in other words, I will find out the situational variables for people to perform superstition.

2.3.2 Situational variables of superstition

Last paragraph, we focus on participant variables that who is likely to engage superstitious behavior and summarize it is the situation or environment that make these groups of people prone to perform superstition. In this paragraph I will show the evidence to further support the idea that situational or environmental factors do influence people’s engaging superstitious behaviors. Indeed, prior literature has showed that people tend to endorse superstitious beliefs and to resort to superstitious strategies under conditions of uncertainty (Felson & Gmelch, 1979; Malinowski, 1954) and the high importance of the outcome (J. M. Rudski & Edwards, 2007; Schippers & Lange, 2006). Uncertainty

Researchers from a variety of disciplines have argued that superstition often grows out of uncertainty. One of the first pieces of evidence for this notion comes from Malinowski (1954)’s observations. He (Malinowski, 1972/1948, pp. 139-140) observe the life of Trobrianders and find “magic wherever the elements of chance and accident, and the emotional play between hope and fear have a wide and extensive range. He does not find magic wherever the pursuit is certain, reliable, and well under the control of rational methods and technological processes. Further, he finds magic where the element of danger is conspicuous.” This work opens the door for the following researchers to study when superstition happens. Some follow-up studies further verify Malinowski’s theory. For example, Felson & Gmelch (1979) argue that magic results from purely cognitive processes and represents an effort to produce favourable. In other words, people believe that unknown forces (good luck or bad luck) play a role in the outcome of events and that these forces can be manipulated by magic. They use survey to find that students reported using more magic in activities that are relatively uncertain (i.e. gambling) and less in activities that are relatively more certain (i.e. illness). Thus this study suggests that people use magic in situations of uncertainty, which support Malinowski’s basic notion. The importance of outcome

The perceived importance of the outcome increased, irrational beliefs also increase. One possible explanation for this is that when the stakes are high, in some people’s eye, superstitious behavior will become more rational because from the perspective of expected-utility, the small inconvenience of the superstition is outweighed by the potential benefit (Vyse, 1997). This explanation is supported by the principle of Pascal’s Wager which demonstrate that even if there is only a small possible concerning the existence of heaven and hell, it might be the safest strategy to protect against the risk of damnation by living a Christian life. Therefore, high stakes (the outcome is important) will lead people to perform superstitious behavior in case it can be helpful. Researchers have also showed this causal relationship of the importance of outcome with the use of superstitious behavior in different context. For example, Biner, Angle, Park, Mellinger, & Barber (1995) used experimental method to investigate whether need affect subjects’ level of confidence in winning a motive—relevant incentive in a chance-based card-drawing activity. Results show that compared to food-satiated (low need or low importance) subjects, food-deprived (high need or high importance) subjects were significantly more confident that they would win the hamburger in the pure-chance drawing. In their follow-up study, they used field study to show that higher ratings of personal skill in lottery among low-income participants (outcome is more important) than high-income participants (outcome is less important). In the context of sports, similar findings are also presented. For instance, Schippers & Lange (2006),using experimental method, manipulated different type of match (final vs. training) as different importance of the outcome (high importance vs. low importance) and found that ritual commitment, which is defined as the extent to which subjects wish or need to engage in superstitious ritual in sport, is greater when importance of the game is high rather than low. In the context of students’ taking exam, Rudski & Edwards (2007) use experiment to show the causal relationship between importance of outcome and degree of difficulty (easy, moderately comfortable, difficult), and students’ performing superstitious behaviors. Regarding measuring student’s superstitious behavior, they based on Bleak & Frederick (1998)’s survey consisted of 25 items describing common superstitions or rituals about college athletes. About the importance of outcome, they use the setting that the test represents 5%, 20% and 50% of the final exam grade. They found that the importance of the outcome most influenced superstitious rituals. (Damisch, 2008, p. 18)

2.3.2 Why superstitions happen? Stress

Stress and superstition

Ellson (1942) found a large temporary increase in the percentage of books dealing with psychical research and spiritualism published between 1916 and 1920, which he attributed to the threat posed by the First World War.

Sales (1973) believed that people’s interest in superstition is reflected in the popular media and examined the percentage of books and articles pertaining to astrology during threatening and nonthreatening periods and found that the percentage was significantly higher during stressful times.

Padgett & Jorgenson (1982) use multiple linear regression to demonstrate that economic threat predict the level of superstition in Germany for the tumultuous years 1918 to 1940. Indexes of superstition were the number of articles on astrology, mysticism, and cults appearing in a Germany periodical index. Threat was measured by levels of real wages, unemployment, and industrial production. The economic threat variables significantly predicted level of superstition in two of the three superstition indexs.

McCann & Stewin (1984) verified that the annual percentage of parapsychological contributions to the psychological literature is (a) correlated positively with the unemployment rate, (b) is correlated negatively with the disposable per capita income in constant dollars, and (c) is correlated positively with the subjective “annual threat weightings” of historians and social critics.

Womack (1992) reported that athletes were more likely to resort to superstition or rituals under highly stressful situation.

Keinan (1994) is the landmark to use experimental method to investigate the relationship between psychological stress and magic thinking and the extent to which such a relationship may be moderated by individuals’ tolerance of ambiguity using Israeli citizens during the Gulf War as the subjects. The results show that superstitious and magic beliefs are more prevalent among people living in regions exposed to missile attacks (high-stress condition) than among those living in regions not exposed to such attacks (low-stress condition). Furthermore, high stress level exerts a more pronounced effect on the occurrence of magical thinking in individuals with low tolerance of ambiguity than in those with high tolerance. Although this paper point out a bright way for future research about superstition in psychology, several research gaps are left to be filled: (1) this research only focus on magic thinking which means that no one knows whether people will use behavioural expressions to deal with stress; (2) this paper does not rule out other factors that can also link to magic thinking in the different areas.

Keinan (2002) based on the former work further to solve the problems mentioned above. He designed a very clear experiment that half participants are exposed to low-stress conditions (a regular study day during which no examination were held) and half to high-stress conditions (about half an hour before an examination). They are interviewed and asked questions designed to elicit a superstition behavior: “knocking on wood” ritual. Results show that the difference in the number of knocks on wood between high Desire for Control (DC) and low-DC individuals was greater in the high-stress than in the low-stress condition.

Uncertainty and stress

Monat, Averill, & Lazarus (1972) conducted two experiments to show the effects of uncertainty on anticipatory (3 minutes) stress reactions and cognitive coping reponses. Results show that temporal uncertainty subjects who know that a painful electric shock would occur, but not when, demonstrated maximum affetice disturbance (stress) in the anticipation period and thought less about the shock as time processed.

Mishel (1984) proposed a structural model to explain the stress resulting from hospitalization for a medical problem. Results showed that perceived uncertainty about symptoms, treatment, and outcome was examined as a major predictor of stress. Testing of the model with hospitalized medical patients indicated support for the relationship of uncertainty to stress. Uncertainty also had the predicted mediating role between seriousness of illness and stress.

Fleming, Okeeffe, & Baum (1991) showed that resident living near hazardous waste site which elicit uncertainty about the future of their family performed more poorly on a task that has been shown to be affected by stress and had more difficulty concentrating and/ or motivating themselves to work on the task and experienced greater stress-related arousal of the sympathetic nervous system.

Importance of outcome and stress

Schuler (1980)

Marchant, Morris, & Anderson (1998) conducted experiment to investigate whether perceived importance have causal relationship with competitive strate anxiety. They manipulated perceived importance of outcome (low importance: three golf balls vs. high importance: golf shoes) and asked participants to complete the Sport Competition Anxiety Test. Results show the significant differences between the low-importance group and high-importance group on competitive state anxiety.

Schippers & Lange (2006) use experiment to verify that importance attached to the outcome in a given situation affect people’s tension. More specifically, when outcomes are not considered to be very important, individuals should feel more or less relaxed, the level of psychological tension is low. In contrast, when outcomes are considered to be very important, people experience greater psychological tension and stress. Control

The need for control and the aversiveness of perceived uncontrollability are major motivators of human behaviors and have long been identified as a basic motivation in the psychological literature (Averill, 1973; Lefcourt, 1973; White, 1959). Heightened perceptions of control have been associated with psychological and physical well-being (Taylor & Brown, 1988) and exposure to uncontrollable situations has deleterious effects and have been associated with feelings of helplessness and other negative psychological and physical consequences (Abramson, et al., 1978). Thus when personal control is threatened or undermined, persons are driven to protect it or regain it (Liu & Steele, 1986; Pittman & Pittman, 1980). Superstitious strategies are the useful tools for people under low perceptions of control or even no control to regain such control.

Stress and control

Many psychological literatures have mentioned that experience of stress is strongly associated with perceived loss of control.

Lacking control and superstition

Some research has pointed out that a tendency towards magical thinking in situation in which control is reduced or lacking.

The first study of superstition happening under lacking of control is Skinner (1948). Skinner records the behaviors of hungry pigeons when food is presented regularly and finds that even pigeons can perform superstitious behavior in uncontrollable reinforcement situations. More specifically, Skinner arranges a clock to present food every 15 seconds. After a few minutes, the pigeons start to perform distinctive rituals even though reinforcement is complete independent of the pigeons’ behavior. The distinctive rituals include that one bird is conditioned to turn counter-clockwise about the cage, making two or three turns between reinforcements; another bird repeatedly thrust its head into one of the upper corners of the cage; a third bird develop a “tossing” response, as if placing its head beneath an invisible bar and lifting it repeatedly. Skinner (1948) demonstrates that the behavior of the pigeons is a sort of superstition because the bird behaves as if there is a causal relation between its behavior and the presentation of food, although such a relation is lacking. Some follow-up studies are conducted and verify Skinner’s theory from different angles. For example, Ono (1987) analyze the behavior of humans exposed to response-independent schedules of reinforcer delivery and find that idiosyncratic and stereotyped superstitious behavior is produced in human subjects by response-independent schedules.

Matute (1994) use experiment to demonstrate that Yoked subjects tend to superstitious behavior and illusion of control during exposure to uncontrollable noise. This in turn prevents the development of learned helplessness because uncontrollability is not perceived. In the following experiment, the failure feedback manipulation is added to the Yoked condition. Results of this experiment replicate previous findings of a proactive interference effect in humans – often characterized as learned helplessness. This effect, however, does not support learned helplessness theory because failure feedback is needed for its development. It is argue that conditions of response-independent reinforcement commonly used in human research do not lead to learned helplessness, but to superstitious behavior and illusion of control.

Matute (1995) based on his former research test the generality of superstition and illusion of control effects in humans exposed to uncontrollable noise under different task conditions, as well as two different conditions of percentage and distribution of negative reinforcement (noise termination). He find that most subjects exposed to non-contingent negative reinforcement tend to behave superstitiously, and to believe (a) that they had found a way to stop the noise, (b) that the task was controllable, and (c) that they were controlling it.

Dudley (1999) support Matute’s theory and argue that paranormal beliefs can allow one to make external and specific attributions by placing the blame for failure outside oneself, which may prevent the development of learned helplessness during specific instances of uncontrollability. He use experiment to verify his assumption that participants resort to superstitious belief in unsolvable situations, which may prevent or interrupt performance impairment and superstition may help block the development of learned helplessness. More specifically, he find that college students scoring higher on Tobacyk’s revised Paranormal Belief Scale (PBS) (J. Tobacyk & Milford, 1983; J. J. Tobacyk, 2004) solve more anagrams after exposure to an unsolvable problem than did students who score lower on the PBS.

The effectiveness of superstition

As superstitious strategies are often used when control is lacking. Some early literatue maintained that the reason why people perform superstition is that they believe it is useful to control the outcome. For example, Killeen (1978) propose that in the attempt to solve a problem, an organism tend to repeat any behavior that may have produced the desire outcome. Later, Van Raalte, Brewer, Nemeroff, & Linder (1991) demostrated that those students who believe that their own actions exert some control over chance events are most likely to exhibit superstitious behaviors.

However, many psychological researchers argued that even people know clearly that their superstitious behaviors do not have any influence on the potential outcome, they still perform superstitious behaviors. Research that support this standpoint can be found in literatures which are in different contexts. For example, Bleak & Frederick (1998) report that may athletes engage in superstitious rituals in spite of their self-reports indicating low levels of aggrement that such behaviors are effective in influencing sports performance which means that it is not necessarily effectiveness of a superstitious sport behavior which determines its popularity among members of a sport team. Rogers (1998), in the context of gambling, observed that Lotto players acknowleged that winning Lotto is based purely on probability but they still believed in hot and cold numbers and used of intuition influenced actual behaviors. Rudski & Edwards (2007), in the context of students’ taking exam, also argue that although many participants reported using charms or rituals, they often failed to grant much credence to their efficacy.

In regard to this controversy, Campbell (1996) based on Garwood (1963)’s work propsed the concept of “modern superstition” which he believed that modern practitioners of superstition are not prepared to declare that they believe that they have any control over the outcome. The reason why they engage superstition is that they want emotional reassurance which superstition brings. In addition, they pursue a state to be active rather than accept passivity where control is lacking; a need to protect a fundamental orientation to action which is internalized in their personality and characteristic of their culture. That is to say, people performing superstition want to obtain a feeling which make them comforatble. Current psychological literature, from the perspective of illusory control also support this viewpoint.

Illusory control and superstition

Langer (1975) is the first researcher to propose this concept. She demonstrated that people act as if they can control outcomes in situations that are purly chance. She proposed that chance situations with skill elements elicit illusions of control, exaggerations of the probability of success based on overestimations of personal control.

Case, et al.(2004)’s experiment also support this standpoint. They showed that belief in the efficacy of the psychic’s ability did not appear to drive use of the psychic’s choice and participants chose the psychic option only on those trials where failure was most salient, in other words, only under circumstance that participants cannot control the outcomes.

Case, et al. (2004) investigate the use of superstitious strategies under conditions of low control. In their experiments, 78 participants complete a chance-determined card-guessing task in which they were permitted to use a psychic’s card selection instead of making their own card selections. Participants’ use of a superstitious strategy (a psychic’s selections) increased significantly with the perceived likelihood of failure, which suggests that participants cannot control the outcomes.

question, I will start from the psychological literature and try to find that under what circumstance do people perform superstition because according to the Block and Kramer (2009; 2008)’s work, the reason why consumers prefer products with superstitious-related attributes is that superstitious people mistakenly believe that positive superstitious-association attributes lead to higher product performance. It is to be noted that the product performance does nothing with the attributes no matter whether they are positive or negative superstitious-related. Thus, the phenomenon that consumers prefer products with positive superstitious-related attributes match with the concept of superstition that is a belief, or set of belief, that specific actions can directly influence the occurrence of desirable outcomes or the avoidance of undesirable outcomes when, in fact, the actions are not causally related to the outcomes (Carlson, et al., 2009, p. 691). Therefore, we propose that

As superstition is the psychological topic originally, however, current literature about superstition in marketplace do not take consumer psychology of superstition into accout. In other words, there is lack of empirical research between the psychological research of superstition and research about superstition in consumer decision making context.

It is likely to expect that for superstitiou sconsumers, their situation when using products could induce their evaluation towards products with superstitious-related attributes. So in order to answer the first question, I start from the psychological literature and try to find out when


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