Strategic Living

The Luck Factor, by Dr. Richard Wiseman

I bought this book because I heard an interview with Dr. Wiseman on my local National Public Radio station, and I was fascinated with just the idea that luck can be looked at in a scientific study. And he came across as clever, articulate and funny. So, what's not to like, right?

Overall, it's a decent book and a quick read. Although it is written colloquially with a self-help focus, he does seem to have done real scientific studies, given that much research in psychology depends on self-reporting surveys.

I was left with a few nagging doubts, however, about how statistically significant really were the differences between those self-defined as lucky and unlucky. While those "unlucky" folks as an aggregate self-scored themselves higher on anxiety-related questions and lower on life satisfaction, it may have been more convincing to see the range of expression in each group.

In one of the early examples he gave contrasting the behavior of a lucky man and an unlucky woman, I wondered if he could account for possible confounding factors that also may explain some behavior differences. Dr. Wiseman reported on one experiment (and this is what caught my ear on the radio) where he asked both lucky and unlucky study subjects to meet an interviewer at a coffee shop. Of course the setting was rigged: on the way in there was a 5 pound note (yes, this is in England) to be found right outside, and inside the subject could've sat at the counter next to a businessman who may have had an opportunity for them.

Needless to say, the lucky participant found both the money and sat next to the businessman. The unlucky participant, on the other hand, missed both the money and sat by herself. I have to wonder if socialized gender roles may play a part in seeking some opportunity; would fewer women sit next to a man at the counter if there are plenty of open seats all around, so as to not risk being seen as "coming on" to him?

On the plus side, I was reminded of studies done a few decades ago by Pauline Bart (See Stopping Rape: Successful Survival Strategies). One of her findings was that women who successfully fought off potential rapists tended to have very proactive, problem-solving attitudes. Likewise, Wiseman found that self-described lucky folks had that same approach to solving their problems. As a self-defense instructor, I would likely consider recommending some of Wiseman's exercises for some of my students to help themselves change their attitude about "luck."


Dr. Wiseman has a stylish website to report on what he's up to, where he's speaking, and for you to "participate" in his work on Quirkology. No kidding.

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