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The Psychology of Luck

Date: 05-28-03
Host: George Noory
Guests: Richard Wiseman

Psychologist Richard Wiseman appeared on Wednesday's program to discuss his eight-year study into the nature of luck. What he discovered was that essentially people make their own good or bad luck through their behaviors and beliefs. Lucky people are "out there creating opportunities for themselves," drawing people towards them with their social magnetism, Wiseman explained.

Besides opportunity, there are three other central principles that can make people luckier, Wiseman outlined:

  • Intuition-- Lucky people tend to trust their gut feelings.
  • Expectation-- Expecting to be lucky can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Coping with Ill Fortune-- The ability to turn unlucky events around to work in your favor.

Through these principles, we could potentially reverse engineer unlucky people, Wiseman said, who added that one of his goals was to "bring some science to the self-help industry."

Dr. Wiseman also touched on his research into areas such as humor and lying. Liars tend to use shorter sentences and longer pauses he said. Recently he conducted an online experiment with the laughlab.co.uk, to see whether people could tell if someone was presenting a real or fake smile in a photograph. Real smiles, he said, are detectable via the appearance of laugh lines around the eyes.

Ghostly Experiments

Dr. Richard Wiseman has conducted scientific investigations into a number of interesting areas, including that of ghostly phenomena. He and his associates set up two large scale experiments to study why some people report ghostly sensations (such as seeing apparitions or feeling cold spots) in allegedly haunted locations. The first study took place in 1999 in England's Hampton Court Palace, which has long been said to be haunted by Catherine Howard, who was beheaded by order of her husband King Henry VIII. Over the years, some 300 people have reported strange occurrences in the gallery, where Catherine is said to have pleaded for her life. The study involved 1,000 members of the public who were given questionnaires about their experiences and also employed high tech equipment such as thermal-imaging. The results showed unusual sensations were tied to specific locations, though Wiseman believes "some of these experiences were caused by natural phenomena, such as subtle draughts and changes in air temperature."

In 2001, underground vaults at Edinburgh Castle were the site of a second large study. Participants did not know which vaults had the reputation as being haunted, yet they consistently reported more odd experiences in the haunted ones. "Hauntings exist, in the sense that places exist where people reliably have unusual experiences," Wiseman said in an article on BBC News. Still he doesn't necessarily think ghosts are the culprit, citing again the evidence of environmental cues.

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Bumper music from Wednesday May 28, 2003

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