Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.
My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.
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Are you lucky? Perhaps you’re unlucky. What is luck, anyway?
It’s tempting to consider it as some kind of magical force present in the ether, in which some individual seem more able to channel its influence than others.
Alternatively, it may be a force unto itself, bestowing favour or ill-fortune upon those who cross its path.
Both of those definitions, however, fail under scrutiny. This does not mean that ‘luck’ does not exist, nor does it mean that belief in it cannot be beneficial (or detrimental, in the case of bad luck). Luck (in part) does depend on how you understand it.
The up-coming Psychobabble covers the topic of luck, and here I present excerpts (and a link to the full text) to an opinion piece written by Dr. Richard Wiseman. It was published in The Skeptical Enquirer (May/Jun 2003).
Now that name (The Skeptical Enquirer) may prime some... ahem... skepticism in certain folk. So I will begin at the end and work my way backwards. Wiseman concludes with this paragraph:
The project has also demonstrated how skepticism can play a positive role in people’s lives. The research
is not simply about debunking superstitious thinking and behavior. Instead, it is about encouraging people to move away from a magical way of thinking and toward a more rational view of luck. Perhaps most important of all, it is about using science and skepticism to increase the level of luck, happiness, and success in people’s lives.
In the piece Wiseman speaks of his research into people's perceptions of luck; what makes a lucky person lucky, and why the unlucky perceive themselves so. It's short, and episode 4 of Psychobabble intends to tackle the topic in much greater depth, but this piece gives a nice introduction to various aspects of the research.
After much research Wiseman created a 'Luck School' (a catchy name for a research project, not a product to flog to new-age hipsters) and, he claims, turned around the luck of the unlucky, and made the lucky luckier. He claims that the 'lucky' are just prepared, varied, and opportunistic, and that 'unlucky' folk are less prepared and less opportunistic (and a little less adventurous) (and yes, I'm paraphrasing grossly). For instance 'Lucky' people have described to him habits and outlooks that lead to greater opportunity.
Another person described a special technique that he had developed to force him to meet different types of people. He
had noticed that whenever he went to a party, he tended to talk to the same type of people. To help disrupt this routine, and make life more fun, he thinks of a color before he arrives at the party and then chooses to only speak to people wearing that color of clothing at the party! At some parties he only spoke to women in red, at another he chatted
exclusively to men in black.
Is this luck? Is it just extraversion? If such a behaviour can be considered luck, can luck be taught or improved? Am I missing the point entirely?
These are some interesting questions, and I invite you all to pose your own for discussion on Psychobabble. I have included a(n incomplete) list of references we intend to use to forge our discussion - just leave your questions, stories, theories, in the comments section and I'll work damn hard to include them.
Here's the references and abstracts, to get the neurons firing:
Day L, & Maltby J (2003). Belief in good luck and psychological well-being: the mediating role of optimism and irrational beliefs. The Journal of psychology, 137 (1), 99-110 PMID: 12661707
The authors examined the relationship of belief in good luck with depression and anxiety within the context of a number of cognitive and personality variables used to explain depression and anxeity. Undergraduate students (46 men, 98 women) were administered measures of belief in good luck, depression, anxiety, optimism, neuroticism, attribution style, and self-esteem, and irrational beliefs. The results showed that belief in good luck was significantly related to optimism and irrational beliefs. A number of models were tested to determine whether irrational beliefs or optimism mediated the relationship between belief in good luck and depression and anxiety. The findings suggested that negative relationships between belief in good luck and both depression and anxeity are best addressed by the theory that belief in good luck engenders optimisted traits and a reduced level of irrational beliefs.
Teigen, K., et al. (1999). Good Luck and Bad Luck: How to tell the difference European Journal of Social Psychology.
Good luck implies comparison with a worse counterfactual outcome, whereas bad luck implies upward comparisons. People will accordingly describe themselves as particularly lucky after recollecting situations where they avoided something negative, and as particularly unlucky after recollecting episodes in which they missed something positive
(Study 1). Upward and downward comparisons can be created by the way a situation develops, and are accentuated by the way a story is told. Good luck stories typically change for the better only in the last stage, whereas bad luck stories show a more steady downward progression (Study 2). This is also re¯ected in phrases believed to be characteristic of good luck versus bad luck stories, with good luck stories involving surprise and reference to close counterfactuals, whereas bad luck stories focus on initial normal events (Study 3). Good and bad luck imply different orders of events (negative± positive versus positive±negative), so by rearranging the narrative sequence, the same set of outcomes can form the basis for a good luck story as well as a bad luck story (Study 4). The ®nal experiment (Study 5) shows that negative outcome expectations are typical for chance-determined and uncontrolled situations. Under such circumstances, factual outcomes do not have to be exceptionally good to be considered as lucky.
Risen, J., & Gilovich, T. (2008). Why people are reluctant to tempt fate. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95 (2), 293-307 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1683
The present research explored the belief that it is bad luck to “tempt fate.” Studies 1 and 2 demonstrated
that people do indeed have the intuition that actions that tempt fate increase the likelihood of negative
outcomes. Studies 3–6 examined our claim that the intuition is due, in large part, to the combination of
the automatic tendencies to attend to negative prospects and to use accessibility as a cue when judging
likelihood. Study 3 demonstrated that negative outcomes are more accessible following actions that tempt
fate than following actions that do not tempt fate. Studies 4 and 5 demonstrated that the heightened
accessibility of negative outcomes mediates the elevated perceptions of likelihood. Finally, Study 6
examined the automatic nature of the underlying processes. The types of actions that are thought to tempt
fate as well as the role of society and culture in shaping this magical belief are discussed.
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