Why People Are Reluctant to Tempt Fate?
Abstract (Via Booth)
The present research explored the belief that it is bad luck to “tempt fate.” Studies 1 and 2 demonstrated that people do indeed have the intuition that actions that tempt fate increase the likelihood of negative outcomes. Studies 3–6 examined our claim that the intuition is due, in large part, to the combination of the automatic tendencies to attend to negative prospects and to use accessibility as a cue when judging likelihood. Study 3 demonstrated that negative outcomes are more accessible following actions that tempt fate than following actions that do not tempt fate. Studies 4 and 5 demonstrated that the heightened accessibility of negative outcomes mediates the elevated perceptions of likelihood. Finally, Study 6 examined the automatic nature of the underlying processes. The types of actions that are thought to tempt fate as well as the role of society and culture in shaping this magical belief are discussed.
Introduction (Via Booth)
It is an irony of the post-Enlightenment world that so many people who don’t believe in fate refuse to tempt it. Why are people afraid to comment on a streak of success if they reject the notion that the universe punishes such modest acts of hubris (Ferm, 1989; Will, 2002)? Why do people feel that if they exchange a lottery ticket it will become more likely to win, even when they cannot cite any conceivable mechanism by which the odds could change (Risen & Gilovich, 2007)? Why do so many people feel that it’s more likely to rain if they don’t bring their umbrella or that a maddeningly slow checkout line at the grocery store is likely to speed up the moment they leave it in search of a speedier line (Miller & Taylor, 1995)? It is to these questions that the present research was addressed.
Although these beliefs are puzzling in many respects, considerable insight into their nature is provided by recent “two systems” accounts of everyday judgment (Epstein, Lipson, Hostein, & Huh, 1992; Evans, 2007; Kahneman & Frederick, 2002; Sloman, 1996; Stanovich, 1999). Such accounts explain how people can be “of two minds” about such beliefs and propositions. People’s rational faculties, aided by formal education, tells them that there is no mechanism by which, say, a television announcer’s comment about a basketball player’s streak of consecutive free-throws can cause the player to miss his next shot. Nevertheless, a set of associations built up and stored by the intuitive system can give people a very strong “gut feeling” that such comments do in fact bring bad luck. Perhaps the most clear-cut manifestation of this conflict between intuition and reason comes from participants who knowingly choose a dominated option. In one notable study, participants explicitly stated that they knew they had a better chance of drawing a red jelly bean from an urn with one red jelly bean and nine white jelly beans than they did of drawing it from an urn with 8 red beans and 92 white beans—but still couldn’t help themselves from drawing from the urn with 8 potential winners (Denes-Raj & Epstein, 1994).
Findings (Via Booth)
We suggest that System 1 processing is always at work. In other words, people spontaneously imagine negative outcomes and therefore feel those outcomes are more accessible and likely. The extent to which people’s reported likelihood judgments match their feeling of accessibility will depend on the extent to which System 2 processing overrides the use of accessibility as a cue for likelihood. In Studies 3 and 4, participants had the capacity for effortful processing, and the relationship between accessibility and perceived likelihood was found to be moderately strong . If accessibility had been measured while participants were under load in Study 6, it is likely that the relationship would have been even stronger because a deliberate, rule-based analysis was not available to override the cue of accessibility. If accessibility were measured when participants were made especially accountable for their likelihood judgments, however, it is likely that the relationship would be weaker because System 2 would probably be more engaged (Tetlock, 1992). We have found in our past work, furthermore, that we can diminish the intuitive belief in tempting fate by instructing participants to respond rationally (Risen & Gilovich, 2007). We argue that this was due to participants engaging the deliberate, correction processes of System 2. Thus, cues that prompt rational thinking (e.g., explicit instructions to respond rationally; the use of percentage scales) should weaken the relationship between accessibility and likelihood judgments.