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The role of superstition in the placebo effect on memory performance


Superstitions and the placebo effect have each been found to influence human behaviour. The present study aimed to determine whether there is a relationship between superstition and the placebo effect, and whether this relationship affects human cognition and behaviour. We hypothesized that more superstitious people would be more prone to the placebo effect and that it would improve their performance on cognitive tasks. Results showed that in the placebo condition, more superstitious people memorized more words than less superstitious people. However, in the control condition, less superstitious people memorized more words than more superstitious people. Overall, the findings supported our hypothesis. The findings of the study are important, as they draw a link between the placebo effect and superstition, and further show that these two elements impact human performance in cognitive ability tasks.

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Author information




Dr. SA conceptualised the project, directed the project, analysed data, wrote and edited the paper. Ms. VDM conducted participants, the literature review and the literature search and contributed to writing. Ms. AS conducted participants and contributed to writing.

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Correspondence to Sieun An.

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Dr. Sieun An, Ms. Viraj Dhiren Malani and Ms. Aanchal Setia declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Handling editor: Riccardo Brunetti (European University of Rome); Reviewers: Afreen Faiza (University of Karachi) and two researchers who prefer to remain anonymous.

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An, S., Malani, V.D. & Setia, A. The role of superstition in the placebo effect on memory performance. Cogn Process 22, 553–558 (2021).

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  • Superstition
  • Placebo effect
  • Memory