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There are several studies in the extant literature showing that brief contact with stimuli that are reliably associated with certain kinds of behavior can evoke or cue that behavior. For example, Berkowitz and LePage (1967) found that participants who momentarily handled a gun subsequently behaved more aggressively than those who handled an object not associated with violence. More recently, Klinesmith, Kasser, and McAndrew (2006) found that contact with guns served as a cue for aggression, and Mast and McAndrew (2011) showed that merely listening to violent lyrics embedded in heavy metal music caused males to behave more aggressively than males who listened to non-violent heavy metal music or no music at all. More relevant to the present study is the finding that Biblical passages that described violence triggered more violence in college students as compared to a control group told that the passages came from an ancient scroll (Bushman, Ridge, Das, Key,&Busath, 2007). Are there cues that prime behaviors other than violence? A recent paper showed that belief in superstition can indirectly improve performance on several tasks (Damisch, Stoberock,&Mussweiler, 2010). The authors reported four experiments in which they identified and activated common superstitious cues (e.g. keeping one's fingers crossed, lucky charm). In all four, those who had been randomly assigned to the group in which a superstition had been activated performed better on a motor skills task, a memory task, or an anagram game as compared to a control group. In two of the four experiments the authors showed that superstitions "work" by enhancing task-related self-efficacy, which in turn improves performance, probably because those with higher self-efficacy persist longer at the task.

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North American Journal of Psychology

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