23 January 2015

The Psychology of Superstitious Beliefs in Lucky Objects


Researchers at the Tulane University and at Boston University published a study to determine how superstitious beliefs on lucky objects affect how people achieve a performance goal compared to a learning goal.

Performance goals are goals where success is dependent on other people like an applause after a performance or getting good grades after taking a test. Learning goals are judged internally like learning to play a guitar and mastering a music piece.

The researchers conducted six experiments to test whether superstitious beliefs and behaviors have an affect on the type of achievement goal.

They studied participants behavior in using "lucky" items to achieve a goal on various conditioning trials. They also noted participants choices in using these items given their certainty/uncertainty of achieving the goal as well as measuring their confidence in reaching that goal.

They find that participants who are primed for a performance goal strongly prefer using lucky items compared to participants who are primed to pursue a learning goal. Participants who were assigned to use a lucky item have more confidence in achieving a performance goal but not a learning goal.

The researchers, in their study, did not cover whether the belief in these superstitions have an actual effect on performance but do note an increase in the subjects confidence when participating in the trials. There were no reported performance improvements on the study trials.

Their research is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Super Earths and Planetary Formation Recreated Using Laser Compression and Crystals


Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Bayreuth University (Germany), LLNL and University of California, Berkeley were able to recreate the pressure and melting temperature of materials of a super-Earth planet at the core-mantle boundary.

Using laser shock compression, the team were able to measure the melting temperature of silica at 500 GPa (5 million atmospheres). Inside these planets, extreme density, pressure and temperature strongly modify the properties of the constituent materials. A planet's internal structure and evolution can be determined by measuring how much heat solids can sustain before melting under pressure.

Super-Earths can be defined as planets that are at least five times more massive than the Earth. These planets are lighter than gas giants like Neptune. They can be made up of gas, rock or both. To date, there are around 70 discovered super-earth like planets with hundreds more waiting to be classified.

The breakthrough that made this experiment possible was the ability to synthesize millimeter-sized transparent polycrystals and single crystals of stishovite, a high-density form of silica (SiO2) usually found only in minute amounts near meteor-impact craters. Ultrafast optical pyrometry and velocimetry at the Omega Laser Facility at the University of Rochester's Laboratory for Laser Energetics allowed the team to measure the melting temperature of the material at a much higher pressure.

Shock compression is a technique for inducing high pressures in materials, and high pressures. Usually explosives and impact guns were used to achieve strong shock waves. The new process of using lasers makes it possible to generate pressures far more higher than using traditional methods.