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Luck

Luck

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Luck exerts a dramatic influence over peoples lives. It has the power to transform the improbable into the possible; to make the difference between life and death, reward and ruin, happiness and despair. But how do psychologists examine this elusive concept, and what has this work revealed?

Some researchers have examined why some people are consistently lucky while others encounter little but ill fortune. This work has employed a variety of methods, including interviews, diary studies, personality questionnaires, and laboratory-based research. The findings suggest that luck is not a magical ability or the result of random chance. Instead, although lucky and unlucky people have almost no insight into the real causes of their good and bad luck, their thoughts and behavior are responsible for much of their fortune. Lucky people tend to be skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities, create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

Take, for example, the notion of lucky breaks. Lucky people consistently report encountering such opportunities whereas unlucky people do not. Researchers have conducted several experiments to discover whether this is due to differences in their ability to spot such opportunities. One such experiment involved giving both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, asking them to look through it, and asking them to state how many photographs were inside. Participants were unaware that a large opportunity had been placed in the newspaper, in the form of an advertisement announcing: Tell the Experimenter You Have Seen This and Win $250. The message took up half of the page and was written in type that was over 2 inches high. However, the unlucky people tended to miss the ad and the lucky people tended to spot it. Why was this the case?

Personality tests suggest that unlucky people are generally much more tense and anxious than lucky people, and research has shown that anxiety disrupts peoples ability to notice the unexpected. In one experiment, people were asked to watch a moving dot in the center of a computer screen. Without warning, large dots would occasionally be flashed at the edges of the screen. Nearly all participants noticed these large dots. The experiment was then repeated with a second group of people, who were offered a large financial reward for accurately watching the center dot. This time, people were far more anxious during the experiment. They became very focused on the center dot and over one-third of them missed the large dots when they appeared on the screen. The harder they looked, the less they saw. And so it is with luck: unlucky people miss chance opportunities because they are too focused on looking for something else; lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than just what they are looking for.

Another important aspect of the psychology of luck revolves around the way in which lucky and unlucky people deal with the ill fortune in their lives. Imagine an individual is chosen to represent his or her country in the Olympic Games. The participant competes in the games, does very well, and wins a bronze medal. How happy would the person feel? Most people would probably be overjoyed and proud of their achievement. Now imagine instead that the individual competes at the same Olympic Games a second time. This time he or she does even better, and wins a silver medal. How happy would the person feel now? Most people think that one would feel happier after winning the silver medal. This is not surprising. After all, the medals are a reflection of ones performance, and the silver medal indicates a better performance than a bronze medal. But research suggests that athletes who win bronze models are actually happier than those who win silver medals. And the reason for this has to do with the way in which the athletes think about their performance. The silver medalists focus on the notion that if they had performed slightly better, then they would have perhaps won a gold medal. In contrast, the bronze medalists focus on the thought that if they had performed slightly worse, then they would not have won anything at all. Psychologists refer to ones ability to imagine what might have happened, rather than what actually did happen, as counterfactual thinking.

Lucky people use a certain type of counterfactual thinking to soften the emotional impact of the ill fortune that they experience in their lives. In one study, lucky and unlucky people were presented with some imaginary scenarios and asked how they would react. For example, one such scenario involved the following:

Imagine that you are waiting to be served in a bank. Suddenly, an armed robber enters the bank, fires a shot and the bullet hits you in the arm. Would this event be lucky or unlucky?

Unlucky people tended to say that this would be enormously unlucky and it would be just their bad luck to be in the bank during the robbery. In contrast, lucky people viewed the scenario as being far luckier, and often spontaneously commented on how the situation could have been much worse. Lucky people tend to imagine spontaneously how the bad luck they encounter could have been worse and, in doing so, they feel much better about themselves and their lives. This, in turn, helps keep their expectations about the future high, and, increases the likelihood of them continuing to live a lucky life.

People have searched for an effective way of improving the good fortune in their lives for many centuries. Lucky charms, amulets, and talismans have been found in virtually all civilizations throughout recorded history. Such beliefs represent peoples attempts to control and enhance their luck. Research suggests the time has come for them to put their lucky charms away, and start to change the way they think and behave.

SEE ALSO Magic; Miracles; Mysticism; Risk; Social Psychology

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bandura, A. 1982. The Psychology of Chance Encounters and Life Paths. American Psychologist 37 (7): 747755.

Medvec, V. H., S. F. Madey, and T. Gilovich. 1995. When Less is More: Counterfactual Thinking and Satisfaction among Olympic Medalists. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69 (4): 603610.

Vyse, S. 1997. Believing In Magic: The Psychology of Superstition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wiseman, R. 2003. The Luck Factor. London: Random House.

Richard Wiseman

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luck

luck / lək/ • n. success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one's own actions: it was just luck that the first kick went in this charm was supposed to bring good luck. ∎  chance considered as a force that causes good or bad things to happen: luck was with me. ∎  something regarded as bringing about or portending good or bad things: I don't like Friday—it's bad luck. • v. [intr.] (luck into/onto) inf. chance to find or acquire: he lucked into a disc-jockey job. ∎  (luck out) achieve success or advantage by good luck: I lucked out and found a wonderful woman. PHRASES: as luck would have it used to indicate the fortuitousness of a situation: as luck would have it, his route took him very near where they lived. tough luck inf. used to express a lack of sympathy: tough luck if they complain. be in (or out of) luck be fortunate (or unfortunate). for luck to bring good fortune: I wear this crystal under my costume for luck. good (or the best of) luck used to express wishes for success: good luck with your studies! the luck of the draw the outcome of chance rather than something one can control: quality of care depends largely on the luck of the draw. no such luck inf. used to express disappointment that something has not happened or is unlikely to happen. try one's luck do something that involves risk or luck, hoping to succeed: he thought he'd try his luck at farming in Canada. with (any or a little or a bit of) luck expressing the hope that something will happen in the way described: with luck we should be there in time for breakfast.

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fortune

fortune chance or luck as a power in human affairs, often personified (Fortune) as a goddess; the word comes (in Middle English, via Old French) from Latin Fortuna, the name of a goddess personifying luck or chance. Fortune's emblem, the wheel of Fortune), indicates mutability.
fortune cookie a small biscuit containing a slip of paper with a prediction or motto written on it, served in Chinese restaurants.
fortune favours fools proverbial saying, mid 16th century, expressing the same idea as fools for luck.
fortune favours the brave a person who acts bravely is likely to be successful. The saying is recorded in English from the late 14th century, but the same idea is found in the Roman writer Ennius (239–169bc), ‘fortune is given to the bold’, and the poet Virgil (70–19bc), ‘fortune aids the bold.’
Fortune 500 in the US, trademark term for an annual list of the five hundred largest US industrial corporations, as measured by gross income.

see also every man is the architect of his own fortune, soldier of fortune, wheel of Fortune.

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fortune

for·tune / ˈfôrchən/ • n. 1. chance or luck as an external, arbitrary force affecting human affairs: some malicious act of fortune keeps them separate. ∎  luck, esp. good luck: this astounding piece of good fortune that has befallen me. ∎  (fortunes) the success or failure of a person or enterprise over a period of time or in the course of a particular activity: he is credited with turning around the company's fortunes. 2. a large amount of money or assets: he eventually inherited a substantial fortune. ∎  (a fortune) inf. a surprisingly high price or amount of money: I spent a fortune on drink and drugs. PHRASES: the fortunes of war the unpredictable, haphazard events of war. make a (or one's) fortune acquire great wealth by one's own efforts. a small fortune inf. a large amount of money. tell someone's fortune make predictions about a person's future by palmistry, using a crystal ball, reading tarot cards, or similar divining methods.

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luck

luck the luck of the draw the outcome of chance rather than something one can control.
there is luck in leisure it is often advisable to wait before acting; proverbial saying, late 17th century.
there is luck in odd numbers proverbial saying, late 16th century, a superstition similar to that in third time lucky. The Roman poet Virgil (70–19 bc) in his Eclogues has, ‘the god delights in an uneven number.’

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fortune

fortune chance, luck XIII; (good or bad) luck; position depending on wealth, wealth XVI. — (O)F. — L. fortūna chance as a divinity, luck, esp. good luck, (pl.) gifts of fortune, (also sg.) riches, orig. sb. use (sc. dea goddess) of adj. fortūnus, f. fors (see prec.).
So fortunate XIV. — L. fortūnātus.

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luck

luck XV. prob. orig. as a gambling term — LG. luk, aphetic of geluk, in MDu. ghelucke (Du. geluk) = MHG. gelücke (G. glück good fortune, happiness), f. ge- Y- + a base of unkn. orig.
Hence lucky XV.

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Luck

Luck: see Lutsk, Ukraine.

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fortune

fortuneafternoon, attune, autoimmune, baboon, balloon, bassoon, bestrewn, boon, Boone, bridoon, buffoon, Cameroon, Cancún, cardoon, cartoon, Changchun, cocoon, commune, croon, doubloon, dragoon, dune, festoon, galloon, goon, harpoon, hoon, immune, importune, impugn, Irgun, jejune, June, Kowloon, lagoon, lampoon, loon, macaroon, maroon, monsoon, moon, Muldoon, noon, oppugn, picayune, platoon, poltroon, pontoon, poon, prune, puccoon, raccoon, Rangoon, ratoon, rigadoon, rune, saloon, Saskatoon, Sassoon, Scone, soon, spittoon, spoon, swoon, Troon, tune, tycoon, typhoon, Walloon •fortune, misfortune •vodun • veldskoen • honeymoon •forenoon • tablespoon • teaspoon •soupspoon • dessertspoon • Neptune •tribune • triune • opportune

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luck

luckbuck, Canuck, chuck, cluck, cruck, duck, fuck, luck, muck, pluck, puck, ruck, schmuck, shuck, struck, stuck, suck, truck, tuck, upchuck, yuck •blackbuck • reedbuck • sawbuck •roebuck • bushbuck • megabuck •woodchuck • shelduck • Habakkuk •stagestruck • awestruck • moonstruck •dumbstruck • thunderstruck

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