Knocking on wood may not actually prevent a bad thing from happening, but it does do a good job of lessening our elevated fears, a new study shows.
And interestingly enough, superstitious actions like knocking on wood aren't all alike at quelling fears, found researchers from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
"Our findings suggest that not all actions to undo a jinx are equally effective. Instead, we find that avoidant actions that exert force away from one's representation of self are especially effective for reducing the anticipated negative consequences following a jinx," study researcher Jane Risen, an associate professor of behavioral science at the university, said in a statement.
Specifically, they found that superstitions that involve action away from the body -- such as knocking down and away from yourself, or throwing a ball away from you -- did more to make people think that that action has negated the bad luck, than action toward the body -- such as knocking upward and toward yourself, or holding a ball.
The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, are based on five separate experiments that involved having study participants "tempt fate," and then do something afterward to remedy the temptation. The actions included conventionally superstitious ones -- like knocking on wood -- and unconventionally superstitious ones -- like throwing a ball.
Similarly, past research has also suggested that lucky charms could actually be effective in promoting good outcomes. A study published in the journal Psychological Science in 2010 showed that lucky charms seemed to boost confidence before engaging in an activity, which then led to greater expectations and goals that were fulfilled by better performance.