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An illusion of control modulates the reluctance to tempt fate


  • Chloe L. Swirsky
  • Philip M. Fernbach
  • Steven A. Sloman


The tempting fate effect is that the probability of a fateful outcome is deemed higher following an action that ``tempts'' the outcome than in the absence of such an action. In this paper we evaluate the hypothesis that the effect is due to an illusion of control induced by a causal framing of the situation. Causal frames require that the action make a difference to an outcome and that the action precedes the outcome. If an illusion of control modulates the reluctance to tempt fate, then actions that make a difference to well-being and that occur prior to the outcome should tempt fate most strongly. In Experiments 1--3 we varied whether the action makes a difference and the temporal order of action and outcome. In Experiment 4 we tested whether an action can tempt fate if all outcomes are negative. The results of all four experiments supported our hypothesis that the tempting fate effect depends on a causal construal that gives rise to a false sense of control.

Suggested Citation

  • Chloe L. Swirsky & Philip M. Fernbach & Steven A. Sloman, 2011. "An illusion of control modulates the reluctance to tempt fate," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 6(7), pages 688-696, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:jdm:journl:v:6:y:2011:i:7:p:688-696

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    Cited by:

    1. Arad, Ayala, 2014. "Avoiding greedy behavior in situations of uncertainty: The role of magical thinking," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 53(C), pages 17-23.


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