Thursday, June 07, 2007

Superstitious Sportsfans

The Stanley Cup finals are over and there's a sombre mood here among the Senators faithful. The Stanley Cup is steeped in history and tradition (and in my opinion is the greatest trophy in sport). Hockey players themselves have some interesting traditions, such as the playoff beard. Hockey players are also extremely superstitious and can adhere to some bizarre rituals to help tilt games in their favour. Those watching Ottawa throughout the playoffs surely noticed Ray Emery burying his head in the net before each contest. Some of these rituals are much more bizarre. Former Senators forward Bruce Gardiner used to dip his stick in the toilet before each game. Some goalies talk to their goal posts. Wayne Gretzky never go this hair cut on the road.

We in science tend to take a more evidence-based approach to things, yet we're not immune to these sort of superstition. During this year's NHL playoffs, you would still hear the majority around here talking about not watching the game at a certain location because 'they lost last time we were there', or wearing a particular t-shirt for good luck. Clearly the outcome of a sporting event is beyond the control of the viewer at home, regardless of what they're wearing (either that or the collective fan-base of Anaheim is much better at harnessing this voodoo than those of us in Ottawa), yet we still go to some lengths to set the perfect conditions. This is called illusion of control, a widespread effect and the basis for most superstitions.

Some may say this is evidence (anecdotal as it is) that men and women of science believe in some sort of higher power (you know, the Hockey Gods). In a study done a few years ago it was shown that interest in sports correlated strongly with belief in sports superstitions, but not with scores on the Paranormal Belief Scale (PBS). Not surprisingly, scores on the PBS also correlated positively with beliefs in sports superstition. I don't know if the leap can be made that the superstitious sports fans here also hold belief in the paranormal, but I don't have time to address that - I have my pre-tissue culture ritual to get to.


Anonymous Coward said...

Perhaps there is a basis in quantum mechanics? Each game having a probability of the sens winning, the observer (us) may change the outcome of the experiment simply by taking a mesurement (looking at the score). Next time I'm putting my tv in a black box...