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Keinan (2002) conducted a study investigating whether the frequency of superstitious thinking increases under stressful conditions. Previous research by Malinowski (1954) supports this statement, he found that Malenesian fishermen who were exposed to gusty winds and high waves engaged in more superstitious rituals compared to those fishing in safe lagoons. It is widely believed that stress reduces one’s sense of control; in order to regain possession, individuals engage in superstitious rituals – this is known as the ‘control motivation explanation.’ Later research indicates that engaging in superstitious rituals is prevalent in western culture, amongst mentally healthy and intelligent people (Gmelch and Felson 1990).  However, such research failed to manipulate stress variables and consider individual differences in the desire for control. Keinan (2002) specifically investigated the validity of the control motivation explanation by conducting interviews measuring the desirability of control (DC).

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In order to investigate the validity of the explanation, Keinan (2002) hypothesised that there will be a significant difference in frequency of superstitious behaviour between high DC and low DC individuals and the desirability of control will be greater in a high stress condition than in a low stress condition.
This  2 × 2 (high level vs low level stress x high DC vs low DC groups) factorial design contained participants who were 113 students from Tel Aviv University, aged between 18-31. This study can be divided into three tasks the participants had to complete: the interview, the desirability of control scale and the subjective stress scale.  The independent variable is whether the participants were high DC or low DC individuals, and the dependent variables are the number of times participants knocked on wood and the urge to knock on wood (reported at the end of the interview). However, they were informed that the study was about differences in behaviour patterns and attributes of students in divergent departments.

The purpose of the knock on wood interview was to determine the extent to which individuals desired to knock on wood in response to the three target questions developed to elicit superstitious thinking, such as “has anyone in your family suffered from lung cancer?” A pilot study of 28 students indicated that 11 students agreed to feel the need to knock on wood.
The desirability of control scale (Burger and Cooper 1979) was developed in order to assess the extent to which individuals feel the need to control events. The scale consists of 20 statements.
Lastly, the subjective stress scale is one question to assess the extent to which the stress manipulation was effective. Participants are asked to specify the extent to which they feel stress between 1-9, 9 being very stressed.

Half of the participants were interviewed and completed the questionnaires under high stress environments, approximately half an hour before an examination and the other half of participants were interviewed and filled out the questionnaires under low stress conditions, on a day without any examinations.

For the interview, each participant was placed in a room with a trained interviewer who read out the questions then observed the participants’ reactions. After each question, the interviewer recorded whether the participant had knocked on wood. 
Each participant was then asked to what degree they felt a need to knock on wood during the interview, the options varied from not at all to great. They were further asked to complete the DC Scale and the Subjective Stress Scale. 

Additionally, Keinan (2002) ensured that half of the participants in each condition were interviewed before filling out the questionnaires, but the remaining half performed the tasks in the reverse sequence. At the end of the study, participants were debriefed; receiving a detailed explanation about the purpose of the initial research and confidentiality was ensured. However, data of 5 students were excluded from the analyses, thus they were performed on a data of 108 participants.

The findings of this study Keinan (2002) illustrates that stress hinders an individual’s sense of control; resorting to superstitious thinking empowers the urge of regaining control thus supporting Keinan (2002)’s hypothesis. Under low stress conditions, only 31.5% knocked at least once. Under high stress, it increased to 68.5% – therefore, frequency of superstitious behaviour was significantly higher amongst high-DC individuals thus corresponding with other studies, that show a tendency toward superstitious thinking in situations in where control is hindered (e.g, Dudley, 1999).

The examination of the number of times participants knocked on wood displayed that 50% did not knock at all and 18.5% knocked once. 
Regarding the second dependent variable, (the need to knock on wood), 42.1% of the participants announced that they felt no need to knock on wood during the interview, supporting Keinan (2002)’s hypothesis further.

The mean number of knocks was higher in participants with high DC than in participants with low DC. This finding is consistent with those of previous studies, which showed that a rise in superstitious thinking is a result of exposure to stress (e.g. Gmelch & Felson, 1980). 

Keinan (2002) concluded that superstitious thinking serves satisfaction in high stress environments. Nevertheless, Keinan (2002) stated that further research should consider the role the DC variable plays within different situations and moreover, whether stress reduction namely reduced by superstitious thinking is actually reduced by an individual’s DC level.

REFERENCES
Keinan, G. & , . (2002). The Effects of Stress and Desire for Control on Superstitious Behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28 (1), 102-108. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com.