Posted by Neil Paine on July 23, 2010
"Throughout [Michael Jordan's] professional career he wore two pairs of shorts -- the ones we all saw on television, but beneath the Chicago Bulls uniform he also wore the blue University of North Carolina shorts from his spectacular days at the college level.
No, the researchers aren't suggesting that Michael became 'air Jordan' because his shorts were too tight. But the fact that he believed his college shorts could bring him luck might have made his performance a tad better."
They go on to explain the results in more general terms:
"What it all boils down to, according to four experiments the scientists conducted in Germany, is sometimes superstitions actually work. Not because they bring luck (either good or bad.) It's because believing that a rabbit's foot brings good luck can increase self confidence (luck is on his or her side) and thus the true believer performs better and sets higher goals."
I'm pretty sure Jordan wouldn't have lacked for confidence (or performance) even without his "lucky" UNC shorts, but in general I don't see anything too controversial about the finding. Furthermore, couldn't it also apply to a phenomenon like the "hot hand"? That is, if superstition is beneficial because the player's belief in some quasi-magical power increases his confidence, maybe the similar belief that you were "hot" might also give your performance a boost, simply because of that extra confidence.
Maybe. However, previous studies have actually confirmed that feeling "hot" boosts confidence... in a bad way. Players who considered themselves hot forced bad shots more often and ended up hurting the team, offsetting any benefit derived from the performance boost the German study found. In other words, you certainly want your players to be confident, and if a little superstition gets them there, fine... just make sure they're not too confident.