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As Luck Would Have It

Are some people really luckier than others, or is it all in their heads? Both
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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neuromuscular disease that attacks motor neurons until muscle weakness, atrophy and paralysis lead inexorably to death. Victims of this monstrous malady could be forgiven for feeling unlucky.

How, then, can we explain the attitude of the disease’s namesake, baseball great Lou Gehrig? He told a sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium: “For the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.” The Iron Horse then recounted his many blessings and fortunes, a list twice punctuated with “I’m lucky” and “That’s something.”

Clearly, luck is a state of mind. Is it more than that? To explore this question scientifically, experimental psychologist Richard Wiseman created a “luck lab” at the University of Hertfordshire in England. Wiseman began by testing whether those who believe they are lucky are actually more likely to win the lottery. He recruited 700 subjects who had intended to purchase lottery tickets to complete his luck questionnaire, which is a self-report scale that measures whether people consider themselves to be lucky or unlucky. Although lucky people were twice as confident as the unlucky ones that they would win the lottery, there was no difference in winnings. (continue reading…)

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