Daily Archives: October 16, 2008

Losing Control Enhances Your SuperSense

It is really difficult these days to get psychology studies published in journals such as “Nature” and “Science.” They tend to be dominated by more material sciences unless of course, you can show a picture of a brain operating whilst someone is thinking. (I am always amazed that people find such images so convincing – I mean we all know thinking takes place in the brain and not your big toe!). Anyway, it is always worth plugging papers in the field of psychology when they appear in such prestigious journals.

This month I was particularly delighted to see a paper in “Science” by  Whitson & Galinsky who demonstrated manipulation of the SuperSense by getting people to remember times when they lacked control.

Very simply, participants had to recall events in their lives when they felt a loss of control. After recalling such an episode, adults were tested on all manner of stimuli where there were ambiguous events (see below).


Do you see a picture in any of these?????

Whitson & Galinsky found adults who experienced a loss of control see more illusory patterns, develop more superstitions, perceive more conspiracies and form illusory correlations in the stock market. Their SuperSense had been stimulated! 

The authors argue that loss of control leads us to become hypersensitive to possible patterns. That’s one of the reasons that stress leads to an increase in supernatural thinking. In the absence of perceived control, people become susceptible to detecting patterns in an effort to regain some sense of organization. No wonder those stock market traders are clutching their rabbit’s feet.


Filed under Research