Behavior and illusions: a model to study superstition in a participant replacement experiment

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The notion of superstitious behavior can provide a basic background for understanding such notions as illusions and beliefs. The present study investigated the social mechanism of the transmission of superstitious behavior in an experiment that utilized participant replacement. The sample was composed of a total of 38 participants. Participants performed a task on a computer: they could click a colored rectangle using the mouse. When the rectangle was in a particular color, the participants received points independently of their behavior (variable time schedule). When the color of the rectangle was changed, no points were presented (extinction). Under an Individual Exposure condition, ten participants worked alone on the task. Other participants were exposed to the same experimental task under a Social Exposure condition, in which each participant first learned by observation and then worked on the task in a participant replacement (chain) procedure. The first participant in each chain in the Social Exposure condition was a confederate who worked on the task “superstitiously,” clicking the rectangle when points were presented. Superstitious responding was transmitted because of the behavior of the confederate. This also influenced estimates of personal control. These findings suggest that social learning can facilitate the acquisition and maintenance of superstitious behavior and the illusion of control. Our data also suggest that superstitious behavior and the illusion of control may involve similar learning principles.




Benvenuti, M. F. L., de Toledo, T. F. N., Velasco, S. M., & Duarte, F. M. (2018). Behavior and illusions: a model to study superstition in a participant replacement experiment. Psicologia: Reflexao e Critica, 31(1).

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