Gail Hairston

March: the Season of Good Luck Charms

Published: Mar 11, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 11, 2014) — It’s tournament time in the world of collegiate basketball. For the athletes, coaches and fans of the sport, that means once again pulling on that unwashed-for-four-months T-shirt or making sure that lucky coin nestles in the front left pocket of your jeans or settling into that ancient easy chair gripping a certain brand of beer purchased only in March.

 

Sports superstitions and rituals are nothing new. Suspending belief for the moment, you might envision an ancient ancestor throwing a shiny rock into a rabbit hole and dinner popped out. The connection was made: Shiny rock equals rabbit stew. Now, the shiny rock may miss the next few targets, but inevitably the rock again brings meat to the campfire. By now, our ancient ancestor is convinced he possesses an exceptionally lucky rock, perhaps even a supernatural rock that gives him control of his prey, guaranteeing his family will be fed. Eventually, that rock and its attendant mystical properties are passed from father to son for generations.

 

How ridiculous, we think. A super rock that kills every time? Impossible!

 

Yet, what right do we have to laugh at such prehistoric superstitions when our own repetitive ritualistic behavior is much the same?  That torn and tattered T-shirt shares many mystical, all-powerful characteristics with the caveman’s shiny rock. Both were present at an event with a successful outcome. That first success breeds confidence, focus and — the fan believes — more success.

 

“Generally, people are terrible at thinking about probability, and we are terrible in very specific ways,” said Will Gervais, assistant professor of the University of Kentucky Department of Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences.  “We often see hidden causes behind coincidences in life. As a species, we are in a large part successful because we can infer hidden causes. But we do it too much.”

 

While we sit in our family room or miles away in the coliseum, we have no way of physically helping our favorite team win. The T-shirt nevertheless has an undeniable impact; it makes us feel intimately involved in the action. The fan feels a duty to believe in the power of the superstition.

 

“Once we believe we see a pattern, we're really great at ‘finding’ evidence to support that belief. But we're terrible at finding evidence against the belief,” Gervais said.

 

Psychologists call it confirmation bias, the tendency to avoid rejecting beliefs or a selective collection of evidence — your own personal internal yes man.

 

Athletes are notorious about superstitious rituals, whether it be using a favorite baseball glove, counting the number of bounces at the free throw line, or wearing a pair of lucky pants. If an athlete believes that a specific action will make them or the team perform better, then they might actually perform a little better. The visualization that takes place bouncing the basketball exactly four times at the free throw line, for example, prepares the athlete mentally and physically for success.

 

“Basically,” said Gervais, “we're just not that good at intuitively weighing evidence for and against our cherished beliefs.”

 

But we’re obviously pretty good at convincing ourselves that lucky articles and obsessive ritual actually make a difference. The more belief placed in these things or actions, the more potential impact on performance. It’s all in the turn of our mind, the superstition instilling confidence where there was once doubt or apprehension. And without that reinforcing superstition, their game could well suffer for lack of confidence and control.

 

The fan might not truly believe his unwashed T-shirt, lucky coin or special beer carry the power to succeed. But what could it hurt to wear that T-shirt or carry that lucky coin or to buy that special beer? Just in case, right?

uknow_see_spirit_1.jpg
August
 
 
 
 
 
 
1
 
Sat
2
 
Sun
3
 
Mon
4
 
Tue
5
 
Wed
6
 
Thu
7
Curator Tour
Fri
8
 
Sat
9
 
Sun
10
 
Mon
11
 
Tue
12
 
Wed
13
 
Thu
14
 
Fri
15
 
Sat
16
 
Sun
17
 
Mon
18
We Are UK
Tue
19
 
Wed
20
 
Thu
21
Parent and Families Reception
Fri
22
K Team Meeting: K Week Overview
Big Blue U
Campus Ruckus
Getting Around Campus and Beyond
Sat
23
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Fast and Furious 7
K Team Meeting: Lunch and Campus Tour
UK Lex-Mart
Pedalpalooza
Bowman's Bash
Sun
24
Bowman's Bash
K Team Meeting: Dinner with Your K Team
Kentucky at Kroger
Mon
25
K Team Meeting: Common Reading Experience Discussion
Bicycle-Friendly Lexington
Tue
26
First Day of Classes
Don't Steal Bikes, Bro
Understanding Lexington's Bicycle Facilities
First Day of Classes
Wildcat Wellness Meditation
Wed
27
The Late Night Film Series Presents - The Wind Rises
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Avengers: Age of Ultron
Adjusting to College
Wildcat Wellness - Yoga for Relaxation
Painting and Mocktails
Terrace Time Out at the Hilary J. Boone Center
Thu
28
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Divergent
The Late Night Film Series Presents - Ex Machina
Wildcat Block Watch
Chapel Talk: Faith and Science in an Evolving World
Royalty Showcase
Fri
29
 
Sat
30
 
Sun
31
Wildcat Wellness Expressions - Inspiration Object
UK Mock Trial Informational Meeting
Mon
 
 
 
 
 
Reset Page