The Science of Luck

One of the most intriguing findings discussed in Professor Richard Wiseman’s 2003 book “The Luck Factor” is that some people genuinely seem to be luckier than others. A person’s state of mind appears to have a measurable influence upon the outcome of events. This seems to run contrary to conventional logic. Probability theory indicates that the likelihood of an event either happening or not happening is determined by purely mechanistic factors, and yet Wiseman is adamant that luck is not merely a matter of arbitrary mathematics. He argues that a person’s attitude can actually influence how lucky they are in life. At first glance, this may seem like the unscientific ramblings of a new age guru, but Wiseman is a respected academic. As Professor of Parapsychology at the University of Hertfordshire, he is well-known for his sceptical approach in dealing with spurious claims of the paranormal. The reality, according to Wiseman, is that people who maintain a positive outlook on life tend to seize more opportunities and take more calculated risks, which means that they are more frequently in a position to capitalise on strokes of good fortune which other, more negatively-minded people would either shy away from or simply fail to observe. Wiseman’s research has shown that, over time, people who consider themselves unlucky tend to have a correspondingly negative outlook on life. They may avoid applying for their dream job or approaching a potential romantic partner, simply because they believe, subconsciously, that they don’t deserve to achieve their desired outcome. In addition, people who feel ‘unlucky’ exhibit more anxiety, and their stress levels tend to have a detrimental effect upon their ability to concentrate and think clearly. This in turn can create a vicious circle of neurosis and depression. When many people think about the concept of manipulating luck, they tend to associate it with games of chance. The fantasy of a hitting a lucky streak at the roulette tables is deeply enshrined within the public imagination. Whether or not you ascribe anything to strategy in games, luck clearly plays the most important role here. Could Wiseman’s ideas be applied to gaining an edge in casino games? It’s certainly an intriguing question to ponder. From a purely psychological perspective, a case could be made for the idea that a player who embarks upon a game of chance in a positive, optimistic frame of mind is more inclined to play in a cool, dispassionate way. Such players are more likely to stick to relatively sensible staking strategies and avoid the temptation to go “on tilt”, whereas players who approach the game in a negative or emotionally fragile state of mind are more likely to lose control and start playing recklessly. Perhaps individuals who believe themselves to be habitually unlucky are more prone to start chasing losses with ever more risky bets, in which case a random losing streak could be potentially devastating to their finances. If this is the case, it could be argued that the way in which a person self-identifies as either ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’ could quite feasibly become a self-fulfilling prophecy.