The researchers from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business said many people believe they have increased the likelihood of a negative event by saying they don't believe it could ever happen, and it is common for people to engage in rituals including knocking on wood and throwing salt to get rid of the "jinx."
The researchers said they had subjects use fate-tempting language and then engage in different rituals designed to counteract a "jinx," including knocking on wood. Some of the participants were told to knock down, away from their bodies in an "avoidant action," and some were told to knock upward toward themselves.
Those using avoidant actions reported their fears were alleviated more than those who did not exert force away from their bodies.
"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" said Jane Risen, associate professor of behavioral science at Chicago Booth.
"Engaging in an avoidant action seems to create the sense that the bad luck is being pushed away," Risen said.