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Studying lucky and unlucky people

Lucky and unlucky people see the same event differently, says Richard Wiseman.Lucky and unlucky people see the same event differently, says Richard Wiseman.We have John Sall, the chief architect of JMP, to thank for making us aware of Richard Wiseman and his research on luck in his book The Luck Factor.

We were so impressed and entertained with his plenary talk at JMP Discovery Summit Europe last year that we invited him to speak at JMP Discovery Summit Japan last year and next month at JMP Discovery Summit in St. Louis. 

Richard has a remarkable title: Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology in the United Kingdom. And he is also a professional magician, and the author of several journal articles and best-selling popular psychology books. His YouTube channel, Quirkology, is one of the most watched in the UK.

I asked Richard a few questions about his research on luck. 

How did your research on luck come about, which led to your book The Luck Factor?

I became interested in the psychology of superstition, and why we all cross our fingers, avoid walking under ladders, and so on. When I interviewed people, they started to talk about being lucky and unlucky. At the time, psychologists had pretty much ignored the idea because they had thought that luck was either just chance or people were fooling themselves. I managed to gather together 1,000 lucky and unlucky people, and immediately we started to see differences in the way they were thinking and behaving.

What is it about lucky people that helps them notice things unlucky people miss?

Much of it is to do with mood. When you are in a good mood your perception becomes very expansive, and you start to notice things that you might otherwise miss. Maybe you bump into someone at a party and realise that they would be perfect for a project that you are working on, or you see an advertisement in a newspaper that you would have otherwise skipped over. In contrast, unlucky people tend to be very anxious, and so tend to just focus on what they are looking for, rather than what is right in front of them.

Please share some of your favorite findings from researching luck?

I guess my favourite finding is the way in which lucky and unlucky people view the same event. Time and again, people would experience the same life event but see it in totally different ways. So, for instance, you might have both a lucky and an unlucky person win a small prize in a lottery. The lucky person would be delighted because they won something, and the unlucky person would be upset that they didn’t win a bigger prize. I then started to investigate the mechanisms behind the effect and the psychology is fascinating. Lucky people are grateful for what they have, whereas unlucky people are very good at imagining a world in which they have far more and are therefore disappointed with how things have worked out.


Richard Wiseman is a keynote speaker at Discovery Summit 2017. You can learn more about him and read the abstract of his talk "The Luck Factor." You might also like to watch his interview on Analytically Speaking.

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