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.