Wiseman, Richard 1966-

views updated

WISEMAN, Richard 1966-

PERSONAL: Born 1966. Education: University College, London, England, received degree (with first class honors; psychology); University of Edinburgh, Ph.D. (psychology).

ADDRESSES: Offıce—Psychology Department, University of Hertfordshire, College Lane, Hatfield, Herts AL10 9AB, England. E-mail—[email protected]. uk.

CAREER: University of Hertfordshire, England, director of Perrot-Warrick Research Unit, 1994—, professor of psychology, 2003—. Has appeared on such British radio and television programs as Tomorrow's World and The Today Programme.

MEMBER: Magic Circle.

AWARDS, HONORS: Public Education in Science Award, CSICOP, 2000; Joseph Lister Award, British Association for the Advancement of Science, 2002.


(With Richard Morris) Guidelines for Testing Psychic Claimants, Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY), 1995.

Deception and Self-Deception: Investigating Psychics, Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY), 1997.

(With Julie Milton) Guidelines for Extrasensory Perception Research, University of Hertfordshire Press (Hertfordshire, England), 1997.

(With Peter Lamont) Magic in Theory, University of Hertfordshire Press (Hertfordshire, England), 1999.

The Luck Factor: Changing Your Luck, Changing Your Life, the Four Essential Principles, Miramax/Hyperion (New York, NY), 2003, published as The Luck Factor: Change Your Luck—And Change Your Life, Century (London, England), 2003, published as The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind, Arrow (London, England), 2004, abridged version published as The Little Book of Luck, Arrow, 2004.

Did You Spot the Gorilla?: How to Recognize Hidden Opportunities, Arrow, 2004.

Contributor to Magic in Theory, University of Hertfordshire Press, 1999, and to periodicals.

SIDELIGHTS: One of the youngest members ever to be accepted into the Magic Circle, the prestigious organization of magicians and illusionists, Richard Wiseman has also had a highly successful career as a psychologist, an author, and a frequent guest on BBC television and England's Radio 4. His humor and range of interests have enhanced his psychological insights, and, according to one survey, made him the most frequently quoted psychologist in the British media. He has often combined showmanship with serious research to explore unusual psychological phenomena. He brought the world of Victorian spiritualists alive in an exhibit called "Séance," currently housed in London's Science Museum. To study national differences in humor, he launched a worldwide search for the funniest joke, which attracted 100,000 visitors from seventy countries to his Web site. More recently, Wiseman has begun to look into the psychology of luck, offering workshops for those seeking to change this feature of life, long seen as completely out of our control.

One of Wiseman's strongest interests has been in the area of extrasensory perception (ESP) and psychic phenomena, and he has written a number of books on the testing of psychic claims. There is a long history of professional magicians (such as James Randi) using their skills to debunk the claims of false psychics, but Wiseman has sought a more evenhanded approach, looking for ways science can test the elusive claims of psychics in a mutually acceptable way. In Guidelines for Testing Psychic Claimants, he and Richard Morris outline various principles designed both to combat fraud and to allow for honest testing of sincere psychics. The authors cover ethical issues, mutually acceptable procedures, and the differences between proof-oriented and process-oriented research.

At only fifty pages, the book is brief, and some critics questioned how useful it might be for novice investigators. "On the other hand, I believe that experienced and skillful investigators can be helped by these guidelines," wrote Ray Hyman in the Journal of Parapsychology. He continued, "Although . . . the suggestions are too succinct to instruct an investigator in the specifics of procedures, the total set of guidelines serves as a very useful checklist or reminder of the many considerations that need to be addressed if the test is to have a chance to succeed." In a review of Guidelines for Extrasensory Perception Research in the same journal, Nancy Zingrone and Carlos Alvarado also faulted the book for its brevity, but commended it as "a useful little volume that is sure to find its place among the design tools of veteran and student parapsychologist alike."

While ESP and clairvoyance have a long history of claims and counterclaims, tests and experiments, few people have ever looked at luck in such a skeptical manner. For most people luck is viewed as an intangible factor that comes and goes; one either has it or one does not. Wiseman was not satisfied with this attitude, however, and through a series of workshops and experiments decided to test the possibility of consciously changing one's luck. He published his findings in The Luck Factor: Changing Your Luck, Changing Your Life, the Four Essential Principles, "a self-help book for people on whom pianos tend to fall out of the sky," in the words of a contributor to O. What Wiseman found was that in many ways "people are not born lucky. Rather they create their own luck through their mental attitudes and behavior," as reviewer Clare Hughes explained in Student BMJ. The person who "lucks" into a great job is the same one who habitually talks to strangers and so maximizes their opportunities of hearing about opportunities. Others find their luck through a relaxed attitude. In one interesting experiment, Wiseman scattered money on the ground. The "lucky" participants took the time to scan the sidewalk for loose change. Those who thought themselves unlucky habitually stepped over the money, assuming there was nothing there. The four principles of creating luck are maximizing opportunities, accepting "gut feelings," optimism, and the ability to see possibilities in apparent setbacks, and according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, his "upbeat, charismatic tone might persuade even skeptical readers of the transformative effect luck can have in their personal and professional lives."



Book, March-April, 2003, Steve Wilson, "Something for Nothing: Luck in America," p. 81.

Journal of Parapsychology, December, 1995, Ray Hyman, review of Guidelines for Testing Psychic Claimants, p. 381; September, 1999, Nancy Zingrone and Carlos Alvarado, review of Guidelines for Extrasensory Perception Research; June, 2000, Rex G. Stanford, review of Deception and Self-Deception: Investigating Psychics, p. 213; September, 2000, Lody Auerbach, review of Magic in Theory, p. 333.

Library Journal, March 15, 2003, David Leonhardt, review of The Luck Factor: Changing Your Luck, Changing Your Life: The Four Essential Principles, p. 103.

Money, August, 2003, Jason Zweig, "R+U Lucky?"

O, April, 2003, review of The Luck Factor, p. 149.

Publishers Weekly, February 17, 2003, review of The Luck Factor, p. 63.

Skeptical Inquirer, May, 2000, Kendrick Frazier, review of Magic in Theory, p. 54.

Student BMJ, April, 2003, Clare Hughes, review of The Luck Factor, p. 126.


"Interview: Dr. Richard Wiseman Discusses Luck" (radio transcript), broadcast on Weekend Edition Saturday, National Public Radio, 2003.*