Sunday, April 09, 2006

Do you feel lucky punk?

In his regular column for Scietific American, Michael Shermer takes a look at luck, from the book The Luck Factor by experimental psychologist Richard Wiseman. People who say they are lucky, it turns out, are right, sort of... Luck is a state of mind, and if you are blessed with this state of mind, you are more likely to engage in social activities and be open to new experiences. You are also less likely to be anxious about any opportunities, should they arise. All this combined makes for a perception of being lucky, which in turn increases the frequency of positive events in one's life - actual "luck" (though, it’s of the "self-fulfilling prophecy" type).

Another important characteristic of those who say they’re lucky, I’d imagine*, compared to those who say they’re unlucky, is what they choose to observe. One way of phrasing the Fallacy Observational Selection is Francis Bacon's, "Counting the hits and forgetting the misses". Those who consider themselves lucky would be biased towards forgetting the "unlucky" incidents and remembering (or placing a greater emphasis) on the "lucky" incidents. As Shermer points out, from the book:

The neuroticism dimension measures how anxious or relaxed someone is, and Wiseman found that the lucky ones were half as anxious as the unlucky ones--that is, "because lucky people tend to be more relaxed than most, they are more likely to notice chance opportunities, even when they are not expecting them." In one experiment, Wiseman had volunteers count the number of photographs in a newspaper. Lucky subjects were more likely to notice on page two the half-page ad with the message in large bold type: STOP COUNTING--THERE ARE 43 PHOTOGRAPHS IN THIS NEWSPAPER.

This kind of selective attention, tending to remember and notice the good, not the bad, would reinforce the idea that one is lucky. The extroverted and open nature of the lucky ones is also reinforced and as a result, more incidents (both good and bad) would occur - setting up a positive feedback loop. I guess there is a case for deliberate Observational Selection after all.

*Not having read the book, I can’t say whether Wiseman gives much consideration to the role observation selection plays in people’s perception of luck.

Technorati Tagged - , , , , , .