Why do the results affect me so much

Why doesn't Serena Williams change her socks while she's playing a tournament? At least the Wimbledon winner once said that she had this quirk. But the question could also be: Why does the golfer Tiger Woods prefer to wear a red shirt at tournaments on Sundays? And why did basketball superstar Michael Jordan always wear his old shorts from university days under his jersey?

Quite simply: These quirks give the athletes security. For some reason, they see the garments as a guarantee of success - and indeed, smelly socks sometimes influence the performance of top athletes.

Psychologists Robert Michael and Maryanne Garry from Wellington University in New Zealand and Irving Kirsch from Harvard Medical School have compiled studies on similar forms of suggestion and autosuggestion for a review articleCurrent Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 21, p. 151, 2012).

Not all examples are as obvious as those of the lucky charms in top-class sport. Often these are subtle signals that develop suggestive power - without the majority of people becoming aware of what is happening to them.

Probably the most important insight from research in this area "is that our thinking and behavior are influenced to a much greater extent than we realize or want to be by our current environment," writes Harvard psychologist and Nobel Prize winner in economics, Daniel Kahneman his book "Fast Thinking, Slow Thinking" (Siedler).

Pointless objects are associated with success

If you let your sports socks degenerate into an attack on the nose for several days, you want to go to the next match after a first win under the same conditions as possible. In this way, senseless objects or behaviors are associated with success and provided with an expectation.

"If we expect a certain event, then we automatically set a whole chain of thought patterns and behaviors in motion that allow this result to occur - only that we misjudge the cause for it," write the psychologists around Michael in their work.

That may be banal, but the individual examples of how much the expectation influences the experience and thinking of people remain impressive. For example, when opposing expectations on a task also produced opposing results. Scientists gave test subjects manipulated vodka tonics that did not contain alcohol but tasted like this. The test subjects expected the alcohol to cloud their senses - and in fact, they were more likely to be confused by misleading information in one attempt.

In another test, the opposite picture emerged: this time, test subjects took an ineffective drug in the belief that it was a drug that would improve the performance of soldiers in action. Under these circumstances, subjects were focused and unresponsive to the contradicting information presented to them.