Research Archive

Conditioned Superstition: Desire for Control and Consumer Brand Preferences

Eric Hamerman, Gita Johar

Publication type: Journal article

Research Archive Topic: Marketing


If individuals buy a Snickers bar and subsequently see their favorite basketball team begin to play better, they might attribute this improved performance to their purchase decision. Even as consumers acknowledge that this type of control is irrational, we demonstrate that they are willing to superstitiously alter their purchase behavior (by choosing a less-preferred option) in hopes of helping their favorite team. Existing psychology literature suggests that illusions of control—such as the idea that buying a Snickers bar will impact the score of a college basketball game—are most likely to occur when at least one of the following prerequisites—priority, consistency, or exclusivity—is met. Our prediction is that individuals are most likely to use superstitious strategies to respond to such illusions of control when they are sufficiently motivated to do so. In this paper, three experiments manipulate individuals' perception of control over outside events—as well as their motivation—in the domain of consumer choice. Study 1 finds that lay theories are consistent with the widespread use of superstition in response to an illusion of control, while Study 2 and Study 3 demonstrate that as the perceived level of illusory control over an outside situation increases, superstition is more likely to influence purchase behavior.
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Hamerman, Eric, and Gita Johar. "Conditioned Superstition: Desire for Control and Consumer Brand Preferences." Journal of Consumer Research 40 (October 20, 2013): 428-443.

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