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Humans have a tendency to create superstitions, be it having a “lucky” number, not pass under a ladder, or some more complicated ritual that you believe will bring us good luck or at least to keep away bad luck. Superstitions are seen sometimes as silly or comical, but they can have a powerful effect on people behaviors and influence economic decisions.

The BPS Research Digest has an interesting post about a research undertaken in Hong Kong in order to see if the cultural superstitions around numbers have an effect on the buying of car plates. Here’s a piece of it:

The new research focuses particularly on the presence of 4s and 8s in Hong Kong plates. There’s a consensus in Hong Kong that ‘8’, which rhymes in Cantonese with ‘prosper’ or ‘prosperity’, is a lucky number, whereas ‘4’, which rhymes with ‘die’ or ‘death’, is an unlucky number.

Controlling for visual factors that affect price (for example, plates with fewer digits are more sought-after) Ng’s team found that an ordinary 4-digit plate with one extra lucky ‘8’ was sold 63.5 per cent higher on average. An extra unlucky ‘4’ by contrast diminished the average 4-digit plate value by 11 per cent. These effects aren’t trivial. Replacing the ‘7’ in a standard 4-digit plate with an ‘8’ would boost its value by roughly $400.

The power of superstitions is so great that people are willing to lose money just to change a single digit in a car plate. Not only that, but the researchers found out that the effect the superstition had on car plates value, varied accordingly with macroeconomic fluctuations: in bad economic times, superstitions have more power over people decisions.

In his brilliant book Quirkology, Richard Wiseman has devoted some time to assess the impact superstitions have on everyday lives. Wiseman points out that superstitions influence such things as economic decisions, health issues, driving accidents, and even the birth of children.

You can read the BPS Research Digest article here.