Do you believe in luck?

5 September 2022

Professor Taciano Milfront from University of Waikato’s Te Kura Whetu Oho Mauri School of Psychology

New research reveals culture plays a major part in whether people believe in luck and precognition around the world, more so than age, gender and education combined.

Led by University of Melbourne researcher Dr Emily Harris and co-authored with Professor Taciano Milfront from University of Waikato’s Te Kura Whatu Oho Mauri School of Psychology, the study assessed the effect of culture on luck and precognition beliefs in two large-scale multinational studies sampling more than 20,000 people from 35 countries.

Belief in luck (the idea that certain objects, thoughts, and behaviors can shape fortunes), and belief in precognition (the idea that people or powers can predict the future), is common around the world. However, these beliefs are more common in some cultural regions than others – and there is a link to how wealthy a country is.

Researchers found that a country’s score on the Human Development Index – essentially how wealthy a country is – was associated with magical beliefs. People in less wealthy countries were more likely to believe in magic.

“When there’s socio-economic uncertainty, people may feel like they have less control over their life outcomes, such as their income and working conditions. People may look to magical beliefs to create a sense of order and stability,” Dr Harris said.

Previous research suggested that magical beliefs might be as popular as it is because it fulfills a need for certainty, predictability, and order.

However, this idea was not confirmed in this recent research. Across both studies, a country’s score on a ‘need for certainty’ index was not associated with magical beliefs.

Researchers suggest it is also possible that countries have histories of stigmatising magical beliefs, both at a system level and interpersonal level, that may discourage or encourage magical belief systems.

“These findings tell us that where we live can meaningfully shape our beliefs in luck and precognition,” Prof Milfont said. “Some cultural contexts are more open to magical beliefs than others.”

The study was published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology.

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