One hundred and fifty participants played a computer task in which points were either gained (reinforcement) or lost (punishment) randomly on 75%, 50%, or 25% of trials. Despite the noncontingent nature of the task, participants frequently suggested superstitious rules by which points were either gained or lost. Rules were more likely to be suggested and supported higher confidence ratings under conditions of maximal reinforcement or minimal punishment, and participants gaining points tended to express more rules than did those losing points. Superstitious rule generation was in no way related to a person's locus of control, as measured by Rotter's Internal-External Scale. Participants losing points were more accurate in keeping track of their total number of points than were participants gaining points. Results are discussed in terms of reinforcement and punishment's effects on the stimulus control of rule-governed behavior, and comparisons are drawn with the illusion of control and learned helplessness literature.
Rudski, Jeffrey M.; Lischner, Mark I.; and Albert, Lori M.
"Superstitious Rule Generation is Affected by Probability and Type of Outcome,"
The Psychological Record: Vol. 49
, Article 5.
Available at: http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/tpr/vol49/iss2/5