Tuesday, 14 April 2009

We like to exploit the luck of others

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.

ResearchBlogging.orgWohl, 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.


david said...

The problem with the entire illusion of control concept is that it assumes that the perceived control is illusory. Given that many people, particularly gamblers, believe that luck is controllable then it is merely a matter of belief, or opinion, as to whether the control is an illusion or not.

Social Psychologists assume it is, gamblers do not.

The work of parapsychology can shed some light on this mater too. Findings from parapsychological research suggests that people can directly influence random number generators to a very small, but measurable (and significant) degree*.

Furthermore, many people in the public believe that this "psi" is possible and real. Therefore the "illusion of control" is merely a matter of opinion. Every illusion of control effect experiment I have reviewed could easily be an instance of belief in psi, which we know to be widespread (except among Social Psychologists perhaps).

Dr. David Luke

*For reviews and metanalyses of research areas such as mind-matter interaction, mind-organism interaction and dream ESP see: Radin, D. (2006). Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality. New York: Pocket Books.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I don't know about gamblers, but one player in my ex p&p RPG (non-D&D, lots of roleplaying and non-die tactics needed) group had a lucky streak for more than half a year, possibly even a year, with the group having in average one . Meaning that his throws were in average significantly better than all of the rest of ours. We didn't let him do things instead of us, but we sure were very happy to have him around every time we were in bad situations, since he was likely to significantly contribute to getting us out of them. His lucky streak probably wouldn't have been as noticable in for instance D&D, because the system we were playing had specific event/damage tables, so even if he only scored average damage, if he e.g. injured something at a vital spot (which he did ridiculously often) that still mattered a lot. And no, he did not use weighted/tampered die.

TL;DR: People gleefully letting self-professed lucky people play for them is weird, people letting people who appear to recently get desirable "random" results is less so, in spite of that the latter is not a guarantee for anything at all.

I can't be bothered to read the actual paper on the research, but if verbal claims are all the subjects got yet happily acted on... WTF.

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