Costly superstitious beliefs: Experimental evidence

Ya'akov M. Bayer, Bradley J. Ruffle, Zeev Shtudiner, Ro'i Zultan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Expectant parents experience a variety of emotions, including joy, anticipation as well as anxiety and fear related to the health of the fetus, the delivery and the newborn. These sources of uncertainty and stress render expectant mothers susceptible to the influence of popular beliefs. We design an experiment to evaluate the widespread Israeli belief that a baby's room should remain unfurnished until after the baby is born. We test the impact of this belief on the economic decisions of pregnant Jewish women in Israel. Our findings show that many pregnant women, especially in the second half of pregnancy, prefer to avoid challenging popular beliefs – even at a financial cost. The negative affective consequences of “tempting fate” lead to a preference for a small monetary amount over new furniture for the newborn. The strength of popular beliefs and its influence on individual choice vary in accordance with ethnicity and degree of religiosity.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)30-43
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Economic Psychology
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2018


  • Experimental economics
  • Individual choice
  • Popular beliefs
  • Pregnancy
  • Repugnance
  • Superstition

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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