It's said that severely superstitious people approach all of life as a game of chance. Nowhere is that metaphor more obvious than in America's roughly 800 casinos. Luck, both good and bad, rules supreme.
Gamblers cling to an endless variety of lucky charms to help things go their way. Behavioral psychologist Donald Dossey, author of "Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun," has long studied luck and superstition.
"If you had luck once rubbing that lucky whatever, you're hooked. Lucky charms are hope-based. We're hoping for something good to happen, for lady luck to smile," Dossey told ABC's "20/20."
In this day and age when we're so scientifically advanced, it may seem silly to still believe in charms and superstitions, but Dossey said we all do. "We're feeling beings. We're not logical beings. We're not logical at all."
Charms Are 'Par for the Course'
Dossey believes that superstitions are all about feeling like you're in control. Tiger Woods feels he's got more control if he wears a red shirt during the final round of tournaments. His female counterpart, first ranked Lorena Ochoa, carries a lucky coin and flips it before she putts.
And that kind of behavior, according to Dossey, is par for the course. "Athletes are highly superstitious. They're probably one of the more superstitious of the human creatures, because they're under stress."
Any time stress increases, so does superstitious behavior. Facing the stress of a new baseball season, the New York Mets shaved their heads earlier this year. This apparently bald attempt to produce good luck puts the Mets in good company.
"My research has shown that people with superstitions are usually higher intelligence, higher achievers…sports professionals, actors, high rollers, Wall Street," Dossey recounted.
No one agrees more than executive Peter Arnell. He runs a billion dollar marketing and branding business, and said he's devoted to his lucky charms. "Lucky charms give me confidence."
Charms Come in All Shapes and Sizes
Arnell has thousands of treasured talismans of all shapes and sizes, each with its own significance. Special glasses, cuff links, pens, rings and much more make up his vast lucky collection.
In fact, Arnell believes lucky charms helped him close some big deals with some big names. For example, putting Tina Turner together with Hanes Stockings was a coup that made Arnell's company famous in marketing circles. The company's now introducing a children's snack in partnership with Muhammad Ali called Goat. Ali recently gave Arnell his championship ring, the latest addition to his lucky arsenal.
Arnell admits to taking superstition to an extreme degree, but in principle he's far from alone in that behavior. Dossey said: "Everybody's superstitious. When the person sneezes you think 'God bless you' and say 'God bless you.' And that is probably 2,500 years old."
Most superstitions grew from ancient attempts to save souls from the devil and his legion of spell-casting witches, according to Dossey. One legend among actors -- considered a particularly superstitious group -- says that real witches in Shakespeare's time put a curse on his play "Macbeth" and that it remains shrouded in bad luck. Orson Welles, who starred in and directed a movie version of "Macbeth," said he had no doubt the play is jinxed and that every Shakespearean actor in the world knows it. Many think it's bad luck to even say the play's title.
Liev Schreiber played the lead role in New York last summer. "I have no problem saying 'Macbeth.' Of course maybe downstairs I'll turn around and spit three times." Schreiber, now on Broadway in "Talk Radio," was quick to say he's superstition-free. But, on second thought, he did admit to some personal good luck rituals. "Before every show, I toast my grandfather, and I have a tiny little sip of wine. For a very unsuperstitious guy, it's a sort of superstitious ritual."
For whatever reason, Schreiber's luck seems to be running well. His performance in "Talk Radio" earned both Drama Desk and Tony nominations. Maybe those little superstitious rituals weren't so silly after all.
For more on Dr. Donald Dossey's studies on luck and superstition, visit his website at www.drdossey.com.