Why Knocking on Wood Helps

Ever knocked on wood after jinxing yourself by saying “Man, I don’t see how this can possibly go wrong,” or, “Man, I don’t see how things can get any worse”? Well, you may not be entirely (operative word) crazy; though knocking on wood won’t change the outcome of all the variables conspiring to ruin your life, it will make you feel better.

In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that gestures like knocking on wood caused people to have a better sense of control over their lives than people who employed no gesture. Participants engaged in a scripted conversation with researchers, during which they talked about things like car accidents. Some participants had neutral responses to choose from, whereas others had responses that “tempted fate”, such as “I’m certain that everyone I know will be 100% safe.” After the conversation, participants either knocked down on a wooden table, knocked up (i.e., towards themselves), threw a ball, or held a ball. Participants then rated how likely they thought something negative would come to pass.

Participants to knocked down or threw a ball were less likely to think that they were jinxed than other participants. In fact, participants to knocked up (again, towards themselves) felt worse than those who didn’t knock at all. Researchers suggest that any old gesture won’t help you restore your sense of control when faced with the prospect of bad luck—gestures that metaphorically “push the back luck away” are more desirable.


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