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Keywords:

  • Randomness;
  • Ritual;
  • Perception of control;
  • Illusion of control;
  • Supernatural cognition;
  • Superstition;
  • Causal reasoning

Abstract

Reestablishing feelings of control after experiencing uncertainty has long been considered a fundamental motive for human behavior. We propose that rituals (i.e., socially stipulated, causally opaque practices) provide a means for coping with the aversive feelings associated with randomness due to the perception of a connection between ritual action and a desired outcome. Two experiments were conducted (one in Brazil [n = 40] and another in the United States [n = 94]) to evaluate how the perceived efficacy of rituals is affected by feelings of randomness. In a between-subjects design, the Scramble Sentence Task was used as a priming procedure in three conditions (i.e., randomness, negativity, and neutral) and participants were then asked to rate the efficacy of rituals used for problem-solving purposes. The results demonstrate that priming randomness increased participants' perception of ritual efficacy relative to negativity and neutral conditions. Implications for increasing our understanding of the relationship between perceived control and ritualistic behavior are discussed.