Men who were presented with a positive fortune-telling outcome were subsequently more inclined to take financial risks than men who saw neutral or negative outcomes, three separate studies have shown. However, the link between fortune-telling and financial risks was significantly less pronounced for women.
Xiaoyue Tan and colleagues from Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands, presented these findings in the peer-reviewed September 7 issue of PLOS ONE.
Superstition and human nature
Superstitious beliefs and behaviors are common around the world, although the reasons why people develop them — and whether humans have a predisposition to superstition or cultural forces play a major role — are rather poorly understood.
For example, a recent study shows that people tend to use superstitious rituals as a way of dealing with the uncertainty in their lives. Another study found that these rituals can actually boost people's performance on tasks if they make them feel more confident.
Although fortune telling is a prevalent superstition, few studies have actually investigated how it affects people.
How did the researchers go about tackling this?
To better understand how people react to fortune telling, Tan and their colleagues conducted two online experiments involving 693 participants who presented with either positive, negative or neutral fortunes about their lives and future financial status. People who recalled having good fortune were more likely to take financial risks, especially male participants.
And third, in an experiment involving 193 new participants and a real-money gambling game online, those who were given positive fortunes were more likely to gamble with their own money. However, no significant difference emerged between men and women.
The researchers conducted a statistical meta-analysis of all three experiments and found that the link between financial risk-taking and a positive versus neutral fortune was significant for men - but nearly absent for women.
The results suggest that positive fortune-telling outcomes influenced people's behavior even though most participants considered themselves non-believers. This finding is consistent with other research indicating that people will act on superstitions even if they claim not to believe in them.
"Positive fortune telling can yield increased financial risk-taking in men, but not (or less so) in women."Researchers
Future research could explore what might be causing the greater impact of these findings in men.
"Positive fortune telling can yield increased financial risk-taking in men, but not (or less so) in women," the researchers added.