Research shows when we want something good to happen that we don’t have much control over, we’re more inclined to help others.
Innately, we think it will improve the chances of our wishes coming true:
People often face outcomes of important events that are beyond their personal control, such as when they wait for an acceptance letter, job offer, or medical test results. We suggest that when wanting and uncertainty are high and personal control is lacking, people may be more likely to help others, as if they can encourage fate’s favor by doing good deeds proactively. Four experiments support this karmic-investment hypothesis. When people want an outcome over which they have little control, their donations of time and money increase (Experiments 1 and 2), but their participation in other rewarding activities does not (Experiment 1b). In addition, at a job fair, job seekers who feel the process is outside (vs. within) their control make more generous pledges to charities (Experiment 3). Finally, karmic investments increase optimism about a desired outcome (Experiment 4). We conclude by discussing the role of personal control and magical beliefs in this phenomenon.
Source: “Investing in Karma: When Wanting Promotes Helping” from Psychological Science
Fundamentally, your brain doesn’t like or want to believe in randomness. It always believes you have some control, even when you don’t.
For instance, craps players throw dice less forcefully when they want low numbers, as if that will make a difference.
Nonetheless, many studies have shown that gamblers will bet more and continue gambling longer if they do have a personal role in these fundamentally random events. In some cases, this even affects the style of the particular actions involved in the game. For example, craps players tend to throw the dice with less force when trying to roll low numbers.
It may be delusional but we’re happier deluded. And delusion ironically makes us perform better on average.
Via Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom:
…evidence shows that people who hold pervasive positive illusions about themselves, their abilities, and their future prospects are mentally healthier, happier and better liked than people who lack such illusions.
I’ve posted before about the multitude of benefits delusion can offer:
- People with positive illusions about their relationship are more satisfied, score higher on love and trust and have fewer problems.
- “…People who were unrealistically idealistic about their partners when they got married were more satisfied with their marriage three years later than less idealistic people.”
- Irrational overconfidence increases producitivity and improves teamwork.
- “Self-deception has been associated with stress reduction, a positive self-bias, and increased pain tolerance, all of which could enhance motivation and performance during competitive tasks.“
- Superstition can be performance enhancing. This is why someone wishing you luck can actually make you do better.
Human beings are overconfidence machines. Paul J. H. Schoemaker and J. Edward Russo gave questionnaires to more than two thousand executives in order to measure how much they knew about their industries. Managers in the advertising industry gave answers that they were ninety-per-cent confident were correct. In fact, their answers were wrong sixty-one per cent of the time. People in the computer industry gave answers they thought had a ninety-five per cent chance of being right; in fact, eighty per cent of them were wrong. Ninety-nine per cent of the respondents overestimated their success.