Illusion of control: Why sports fans prefer 'lucky' products

May 14, 2013, University of Chicago

Consumers engage in superstitious behavior when they want to achieve something but don't have the power to make it happen, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"Preference for lucky products (those associated with positive outcomes) increases when a strong desire for control is combined with lower perceived ability to exert control. who make superstitious choices believe they will be effective in helping them achieve the desired outcome," write authors Eric J. Hamerman (Tulane University) and Gita V. Johar (Columbia University).

are well known for their superstitious behavior. A current Bud Light commercial with the tag line of "it's only weird if it doesn't work" shows the odd ways in which NFL fans root for their teams. Robert De Niro's character in Silver Linings Playbook engages in deeply superstitious behavior that will supposedly help the Philadelphia Eagles win.

In one study, right-handed consumers played rock-paper-scissors. Those who won more often using their left (vs. right) hand preferred to continue playing with their left hand. This was more likely to occur among consumers with a stronger desire for control, and those who preferred to play left-handed after associating this hand with victory tended to believe they were more likely to win in the future.

Consumers can become conditioned to associate certain products with success or failure. For example, a sports fan who was drinking a Dr. Pepper while watching his favorite team win a game might later drink Dr. Pepper—even if he would actually prefer a Coke—while watching future games in the hope that he's giving his team an extra edge.

"Conditioned superstitions are formed when consumers associate with success or failure. Depending on how much they wish to control their environment—and their perception of whether they can do so—consumers who make these associations may be more likely to act on them, thereby creating an illusion of control over future outcomes," the authors conclude.

Explore further: Is the iPad Creative? It depends on who's buying it

More information: Eric J. Hamerman and Gita V. Johar. "Conditioned Superstition: Desire for Control and Consumer Brand Preferences." Journal of Consumer Research: October 2013.

Related Stories

Is the iPad Creative? It depends on who's buying it

March 5, 2013

Encouraging consumers to feel ownership of products they haven't yet purchased can backfire because consumers tend to see themselves in the products they own, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Value or attention: Why do consumers prefer familiar products?

December 11, 2012

Consumers are more likely to purchase a product if they have previously focused their attention on it but are less likely to purchase a product they have previously ignored, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer ...

Recommended for you

Archaeologists find ancient necropolis in Egypt

February 24, 2018

Egypt's Antiquities Ministry announced on Saturday the discovery of an ancient necropolis near the Nile Valley city of Minya, south of Cairo, the latest discovery in an area known to house ancient catacombs from the Pharaonic ...

A statistical look at the probability of future major wars

February 22, 2018

Aaron Clauset, an assistant professor and computer scientist at the University of Colorado, has taken a calculating look at the likelihood of a major war breaking out in the near future. In an article published on the open ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.