We see it all the time: a friend will say, “I always hit green lights driving to work,” while knocking on wood for luck. Knocking on wood is an old superstition thought to ward off bad juju brought by boastful jinxes. Although we lightheartedly knock on wood or throw spilled salt, science shows this superstition is no joke.
A study by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General indicates those who knock on wood to ward off perceived jinxes report a decrease in the negative feelings associated with bad luck. Boiled down, knocking on wood may actually be lucky.
The study asked groups of people to make fate-tempting statements regarding a specific activity. Following the statement, respondents performed one of a handful of actions meant to ward off bad luck. Following anti-jinx action, respondents then performed the action associated with their original statement.
The data indicates those who performed outward-directed actions such as knocking on wood or throwing a ball away from their person reported lessened feelings of bad luck. Additionally, those who knocked on wood viewed their potential catastrophe in a less dramatic way; their potential car accident being a mere fender bender rather than a 55 mph wreck.
The key here is performing an action directed away from your person. Knocking on wood or throwing a ball pushes away perceived bad luck. Actions not directed away from the person, such as rubbing the stomach, do not seem to mitigate feelings of bad luck as much as throwing salt.
While luck, scientifically speaking, does not exist, this study suggests we can affect how we perceive luck through concrete actions. Since mindset informs our daily work, lessened perceptions of bad luck may indeed lead to better outcomes.
So go ahead and knock on wood; it may actually increase your luck.