Does eating chicken before a baseball game improve batting? Wade Boggs, one of baseball history's best hitters, believed it did: He ate chicken daily for over 20 years.
It may seem silly, but millions of people worldwide perform similar rituals for luck. In his newly updated book, Believing in Magic (Oxford University Press, 2000), Stuart A. Vyse, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Connecticut College, investigates why so many rational people believe so strongly in things that seem so irrational.
"We face many important and uncertain challenges, and superstition provides the illusion of control when it's lacking," Vyse says. Practicing superstition can be psychologically beneficial. "Superstitious rituals can reduce tension and give a sense that you're doing what you can to help out," he says.
Most superstitions are harmless, but Vyse notes that some have serious consequences. Superstitious beliefs about luck may prolong problem gambling, and belief in alternative medical techniques over traditional treatment can lead to grave illness.
Still, superstition is basically healthy, and some of the world's most talented people are also the most superstitious: Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky habitually tucked the right side of his jersey behind his hip pads for luck before every game.