During a 12-game winning streak Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland refused to change his underwear. (Or wash them.)
Michael Jordan wore his old North Carolina shorts under his pro uniform. To make sure they didn't show he started wearing longer Bulls shorts, in the process hammering the first nail in the way-too-high-and-tight basketball shorts coffin. (Thank goodness.)
Rockies first baseman Jason Giambi wore a lucky thong to try to turn things around when he wasn't hitting well. (And Derek Jeter borrowed it.)
Wearing lucky underpants sounds pretty silly since, as researchers note, "Superstitions are typically seen as inconsequential creations of irrational minds." But according to those same researchers, it also seems to work.
The Lucky Charm Effect
Examples: Subjects in an experiment who were told in effect "good luck" before attempting a task completed the task much more quickly than those who were not.
Subjects who had some sort of "lucky charm"--a key chain, special stone, sentimental jewelry, etc.--performed better on mental tests, working harder and sticking with it longer than participants without lucky charms.
Students at Colorado College who putted with what they were told were "lucky" golf balls performed significantly better than those who didn't.
Clearly luck can't be conjured. Golf balls, charms, and individual rituals don't have any special powers. Underwear itself doesn't have any special power.
Instead, like a placebo the power comes from the effect the underwear has on you.
Believing that your lucky underwear brings good luck can increase self-confidence. When you're more confident, you're more enthusiastic. You're more patient. You're more relaxed. You think more clearly. You're more focused.
All of which leads to better performance.
The Powers of Superstition
According to the authors of this study, "We hypothesize that the proposed performance benefits of superstition are produced by heightened levels of self-efficacy."
Which to the rest of us means that when you do something that helps you feel more confident, at ease, and hopeful--in short, when you believe in yourself--you are much more likely to do your best. Maybe it's a lucky token. Maybe it's following a simple ritual that helps you calm down and focus. Whatever it is, if you believe it can help... it can help.
And if it bothers you to think of yourself as superstitious, no problem: Think of it as the power of the mind-body connection.
Either way, wear your lucky underwear with pride.
But don't lend them to anyone.