Psychologists have documented the many irrational ways we think about luck, from the fact we prefer to make our own choice in gambling games (thus increasing our sense of control) to our belief in lucky runs or hot numbers. Now Michael Wohl and Michael Enzle have extended this research by showing that we are prepared to hand over control to others if we believe they are likely to be luckier than we are. Wohl and Enzle call this "illusion of control by proxy".
Across three experiments, university students interacted with what they thought were other participants but were really stooges working for the researchers. If one of these other "participants" described themselves as really lucky, or as being in the middle of a lucky run, the participants were far more likely to want them to pick a scratch card, or to spin a roulette wheel on their behalf, than were students in a control condition with partners who didn't describe themselves as lucky. In the final experiment, student participants chose to gamble more money when their "partner" described him or herself as particularly lucky and had been given the responsibility of spinning the wheel.
"The traditional understanding of illusory control would predict that our participants would want to take direct control over the game. Instead our research showed that people readily gave up the opportunity to engage in play to maximise their perceived chance of winning," the researchers said.
Wohl, M., & Enzle, M. (2009). Illusion of control by proxy: Placing one's fate in the hands of another. British Journal of Social Psychology, 48 (1), 183-200 DOI: 10.1348/014466607X258696
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.