Now I don’t feel so silly for all those times that I said something I knew would jinx me (Things are going so smoothly! Traffic is so light!), and then immediately knocked on wood to reverse the effect. A recent study by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (that I read about on The Huffington Post) found that little superstitious tics like this may help alleviate fears. It might not actually stop the bad thing from happening (hello traffic!), but it can make you a little less terrified of the impending doom.
However, not all superstitious acts are equal. The most effective are ones that use movement down and away from your body, giving people a physical cue that they have negated the bad luck. The studies had their participants tempt their fate, and then take an action to remedy the situation (like knocking on wood), then evaluated their fear levels. People who had knocked on wood felt better. And it turns out that good luck charms can actually help you achieve better outcomes too. Who knew?