Roughly 90 percent of college students engage in superstitious behaviors before taking an exam (Vyse, 1997). We engage in many different activities such as eating something special, not shaving, wearing a particular clothing item, or numerous others in order to, from we believe, improve our chances on a test. Yet, with no scientific evidence backing these behaviors, how come we continue to do them?
This question has been plagued many scientists. One study done by Skinner was with 8 pigeons, who received food every 15 minutes regardless of their behavior. What they discovered was the birds developed their own superstitious behavior. Their actions were linked to reward by mere coincidence (Morse & Skinner, 1957). What is so important about this study is it sheds light onto why people preform seemingly quirky things in hopes of eliciting a good outcome. One superstition I have is when I play racquetball. I touch the back wall every time before the ball is served. In my head it's somehow allowing me to perform better and win back the serve. It is because at some point we did something memorable prior to a task that relies on chance and we succeeded or won. Such as when I wore my blue polo shirt to the casino for the first time and won 72 dollars. I began to call it my lucky polo, and would wear it whenever I went in hopes of it bringing me the same "luck". Oddly enough I have never won again since being at the casino, but I still refer to my shirt as "lucky". This seems to relate to the confirmation bias that we seek out the scenario where it did work for us once and somehow as some greater meaning to our success other than simply peer chance. However, there are other hypothesis to the formation of superstitious behaviors, such as if our mother tells us repeatedly that black cats bring bad luck, we may be wary of them (Lilienfeld, pg.221). This seems to support why we still believe in superstitious behaviors despite there being no real scientific evidence to support them.
This video sheds some light B. F. Skinner's experience with superstitious behaviors.