The Science of Luck – Can It Be Predicted Or Controlled?

Research shows that luck can be created in numerous ways. People who consider themselves lucky tend to be better at recognizing opportunity when it presents itself, creating self-fulfilling prophecies by expecting good outcomes, and adopting resilient attitudes which allow them to turn bad luck into good fortune.

But, what exactly is luck and can it be predicted or managed?


Grockowiak highlights how scientific research is full of tales about researchers making significant discoveries by accident, but notes that their successes weren’t due solely to luck; creativity, instinct, and experience also played a part. One such experience may include building diamond anvil cells for high-pressure experiments.

This raises the question of where to draw the line when assessing moral luck. For those who believe in resultant luck, this means determining whether someone should be held responsible when their actions had no control over their outcome; but other forms of luck, like mental or emotional luck could also play a part in moral luck evaluation – for instance if someone took an unwise turn on a highway but felt lucky while taking that turn is not necessarily blameworthy; on the other hand if their misfortune made them more susceptible to being taken advantage of.


Researchers have found that people who can effectively tell stories can alter how experiences appear to them and alter how lucky or unfortunate they seem. Optimists who emphasize what went well in their lives tend to feel more fortunate than pessimists who focus on misfortune when telling themselves stories of the bad luck that has befallen them.

Attributing various degrees of luck to different events is also commonplace; winning $1 million dollars in the lottery would seem more miraculous than $1. An effective analysis should account for these differences in degrees.

Modal and lack of control views require an agent’s actions to count as lucky, which may present challenges when they aren’t directly involved in an event – for instance if someone achieves her science goal only due to support from another mentor, she might not be considered lucky even though her actions were relevant. A hybrid account that includes subjective probabilistic conditions might provide better solutions in these instances.

Goodness or Badness

Many people associate good luck with actions like spilling salt or hitting a green light, but is this superstition or reality?

One version of the modal account of luck includes the condition that an event can only count as lucky for a person if it is objectively significant for her, thus ruling out sentient nonhuman beings (Coffman 2007) and people with diminished capacities such as newborns or comatose adults as potential lucky events (Ballantyne 2012).

Lack of control views differ by not including a significance condition, instead claiming that an agent is luckier if she has a higher probability of an outcome than someone without it, to account for why some agents appear to get more luck than others. This feature of luck could help alleviate hubris that leads some scientists to act exploitative or abusively, forcing them to acknowledge that their successes may also come down to chance.

Lack of Control

Although scientists may not subscribe to traditional superstitions such as crossing their fingers or knocking on wood, they still recognize the role luck can play in their work. It isn’t unusual for scientists to cite broken equipment which led them to an amazing breakthrough or some other unexpected event which led them to make significant breakthroughs.

Luck can be seen as an inner trait shared among individuals, according to Wiseman. People who feel lucky have different mindsets from others and this can lead to positive actions such as studying for an exam or networking with potential employers – increasing chances of success and increasing chances of happiness.

But simply because someone feels lucky does not mean they can prevent or control it; this makes theories of luck that emphasize lack of control so attractive. Instead of worrying about subjective probabilities for events, advocates of this approach can simply include a significance condition as part of their analysis of luck.

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