Fortune telling has an unusual effect on men, and women need to be wary.
According to new research published in PLOS One, even if they profess not to believe in fortune telling, men are more likely to take financial risks after a positive reading.
This effect is not as obvious in women.
The Dutch team of researchers ran two online experiments, with a total of 693 participants, and one in-person experiment with 193 college students.
Fortunately, because we don’t need a world of superstitious students, most participants claimed they didn’t believe in fortune-telling.
In each of the online experiments, participants were asked to rate a fortune-telling app which gave them positive, neutral or negative predictions based on information like their birth dates and favourite colours.
They were then asked to fill out a questionnaire about financial risks.
The in-person participants also used and rated the app, and then were asked to take part in a real online gambling game.
Read more: The science of Wheel of Fortune
In each study, the researchers found that a positive reading significantly enhanced male participants’ financial risk-taking.
But the effect wasn’t consistent for female participants, and a meta-analysis of the three experiments suggested that positive fortune telling didn’t affect women’s risk-taking, or affected it only very slightly.
In their paper, the researchers point out that because the payoffs in each study are low, the effects of the fortune telling may be exaggerated compared to bigger financial risks.
Nevertheless, they think their results show there should be more investigation of the effects of superstition on financial decisions.
“The present findings indicate that positive fortune telling is an important factor for people’s financial risk taking,” write the authors.
“This seems particularly true for men, even when they claim not to believe in superstition.
“This paradox is intriguing in itself, and potentially important to understand people’s behaviours as financial decision makers – at home, in organizations, or at financial markets.”
It’s a good thing fortune telling is illegal in South Australia, where Cosmos is based.
We foresee this law coming in handy…
Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.
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