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How to Knock on Wood…and Why It Helps

According to psychologists, knocking on wood does have positive effectsThe age-old superstitious practice of invoking the help of friendly spirits by knocking on wood may not bring good luck, but according to psychologists who actually tested methods of knocking on wood in a scientific study, it does have positive effects. It turns out that you feel better about a negative ordeal or event you’re facing when you reach forward to knock on wood, rather than knocking upward or toward your body. The researchers who tested this concluded that knocking on wood while reaching away from the body does more to make people think that the knocking negates bad luck, than does knocking toward yourself. The same thing happened when the researchers gave study participants a ball and asked them to hold it or to throw it away from themselves to avoid bad luck. The “away” action seemed to help most, since it was associated with pushing away bad luck. Incidentally, a German study published in 2010 suggested that lucky charms really help when you carry them while performing a challenging task. Here, researchers suggested that what led to improved success was simply feeling more confident and having higher expectations when carrying a lucky charm or performing a ritual before a challenge.

Source:
Yan Zhang Yan, Jane Risen and Christine Hosey, “Reversing One’s Fortune by Pushing Away Bad Luck,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, August 12, 2013

Lysann Damisch et al, “Keep Your Fingers Crossed! How Superstition Improves Performance,” doi: 10.1177/0956797610372631