illusion of control

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The belief that one has control over events that are actually determined by chance. For example, choosing a ‘lucky’ number when buying a lottery ticket does not increase the probability of winning, and throwing dice with great effort does not increase the probability of winning numbers coming up, but people often behave as if such actions influence the events in question. People who are presented with a simulation of coin-tossing on a computer and who try to influence the outcomes—for example, to increase the number of heads—by psychokinesis often believe that they have had an effect even when the computer has behaved perfectly randomly. The English psychologist Susan J. Blackmore (born 1951) and a colleague provided evidence in 1985 that this occurs especially in people who believe strongly in extra-sensory perception (ESP). The concept of illusion of control was introduced and named in 1975 in an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by the US psychologist Ellen J. Langer (born 1947), who was also the first to study it experimentally. Research by Langer and others suggests that it occurs most frequently in situations that resemble tasks involving skill, appear familiar, allow free choice, involve competition with apparently incompetent opponents, include foreknowledge of the desired outcome, and emphasize the importance of success. There is also evidence to suggest that depressive mood reduces the illusion of control. See also depressive realism, just world hypothesis.

Subjects: Psychology.

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