I have often been asked if there is any evidence that superstitious beliefs increase during economic recession. Last year I blogged about the Whitson & Galinsky study that demonstrated that individuals are more inclined to see structure among ambiguous signals and endorse the power of superstitions when they were asked to remember a time in their life when they were stressed and did not have control. However tantalizing such demonstrations are, they hardly constitute strong evidence that superstitious beliefs increase during economic recession.
So I was delighted when Shiri Einav sent me this recent paper from the Journal of Economic Psychology by a team that had conducted an analysis of the price of personalized car number plates that were thought to be either lucky or unlucky.
Travis Ng and colleagues investigated the value of Hong Kong car number plates purchased through auction from 1997 to 2009 and found that an ordinary 4-digit plate with one extra lucky ‘8’ was sold 63.5 per cent higher on average. An extra unlucky ‘4’ by contrast diminished the average 4-digit plate value by 11 per cent. In Cantonese the number “8” rhymes with “prosperity” whereas the number “4” sounds like the word for “death.” Moreover the fluctuations in the prices of lucky and unlucky plates mirrored the economic fluctuations with unlucky numbers dropping the most during recessions.
So there you have it. Research into superstitious thinking does have tangible consequences for the economy. I am about to board a plane for TAM8 in Las Vegas where I intend to put all my savings on black.