Gabriella Trecate

I was about ten years old when I observed my Grandpa playing a digital blackjack game on his iPad. I asked how the game was played and he explained to me that each card had a numerical value and you needed to get to 21 in order to win. You could hit, split, double down, or stand, depending on what the best-perceived move would be. I observed that he had a numerical value of 19. “Hit!” I told him. My mother chimed in that this would be a bad decision because he had a small chance of drawing the card he needed. Grandpa replied back “No, she’s got to learn.” I guess he figured it wouldn’t be much of a loss because it was hypothetical money.


Son of a gun! It was a 2, thus putting the value of grandpa’s hand at 21. I guess I got lucky.

As humans, many of us make decisions to put ourselves in a position where we must rely on luck, especially when there is something at stake. Knowing that we can have something to gain somehow outweighs what we have to lose. My Grandpa didn’t put much thought into taking my advice because he had nothing to gain or lose. Gambling at a casino or entering the lottery are risky moves with a higher chance of losing than winning, yet people continue to participate hoping that they might be the one lucky person who wins big, despite the odds being stacked against them. When the outcome doesn’t work in their favor, they think well maybe next time and continue taking chances that could potentially, yet not likely, work out for them.

Belief in luck varies from person to person, and psychology has studied the different beliefs and their impacts on people’s actions. There is an external belief that many people possess which causes them to consider luck as being uncontrollable and unstable among social events. Those who support and hold with the idea of external luck would say that things happening in their favor are simply irrepressible coincidences. A belief such as this is thought to have no psychological influence on an individual because they leave luck up in the air to chance and do not think it has anything to do with them individually. On the other hand, there are others who see luck as a personal attribute considered to be internal. This thought is labeled by psychology as irrational because luck is not a characteristic that certain people just seem to carry with them.

Prior to furthering research, psychologists thought the internal belief was detrimental to the mental well-being of its supporters, but studies have shown that this conceived idea that someone can simply just be a lucky person can lead to increased optimism and confidence which is a good thing. Feeling some sense of control over luck can make one generally feel more secure. Scheier, Carver, and Gaines researched results in the 1980s that suggest optimism has a positive effect on one’s well-being because it is negatively correlated with depression and anxiety. This means that belief in good luck is also negatively correlated with depression and anxiety. Overall, believers are relatively happy and mentally healthy people.

Attribution style and its correlation with depression and anxiety also explains the benefits of believing in luck. If one internally manifests the occurrences of negative events then they will score higher for levels of anxiety and depression. This would mean that if one attributes positive occurrences to internal factors, then this belief of internal good luck supports the theory that people who believe they are lucky are generally happy and have lower anxiety.

Psychologists then looked at belief in good luck as an irrational belief. In the standard of theoretical relevance, irrational beliefs have a negative relationship with belief in good luck. Irrational beliefs are maladaptive, and those who believe in good luck reject maladaptive beliefs. This rejection relates and links back to psychological well-being.

In 2009 Pulford observed that many people usually avoid ambiguous options where probabilities are not on their side, however, optimistic people go for the ambiguous possibilities because they believe they have a good enough chance of getting lucky. These are the people that go into Casinos and sit at the table knowing the game is usually rigged, but they play their hand anyway and hope for good luck because even a slight chance is enough to keep them interested in playing the game despite what they have to lose. Those who believe that they are lucky change their perceptions of the odds and become less ambiguity adverse if they happen to win.

I gave my friend a couple scratch-off tickets along with her birthday gift one year and she won $10 off the initial tickets. She used this money to go back to the Quick Check and buy more tickets, this time she only won $5. For her last attempt she wanted to make back the money and tried one more time. Nothing. At this point she was not willing to take out her own cash and try again probably because the perception of luck wore off as she began losing and she became more ambiguity adverse from losing.

A boy who I attended school with my senior year of high school had some better luck with lottery scratch offs. He won $200 off a scratch-off at a local convenience store. He went back again and purchased another ticket. Another $200 dollars. In total he won $400 in a week. The idea of winning once pleased him, and although one might think the odds of that happening twice are very slim, there was still a chance. His lack of ambiguity adverse worked out in his favor when he tried it out again. Of course then he got a public indecency ticket for urinating in public at a St. Pattys Day Parade.


By the end of the week his total earnings were $50. You can decide for yourself how “lucky” he is.

Thomas Nadelhoffer introduced the idea of intention as having to do with luck. You are rolling a dice and seek to roll a 6, if you succeed, one might attribute this to skill or control. Thomas Nadelhoffer challenges the idea that luck and intention are not correlated. After conducting his studies, he offers the idea that “perhaps philosophers have mistakenly maintained that skill and control are necessary for intentional action because they underestimated the pronounced effect that moral considerations have on folk ascriptions of intentional action.” If you intend to roll a 6, you may have a better chance at getting lucky rolling it because this is luck that is somewhat in your hands and you are responsible for making it come out in your favor. One could argue that playing the lottery is the same way because we intend to choose the right numbers, but this is slightly different because of the odds. There are millions of other people playing the lottery but you are the only one rolling this dice. One out of six is a better odd than one in a million, or one in 10 million. Intention in this situation can be compared the recently discussed idea of optimism. Optimistic intention leads to taking an ambiguous chance and possibly getting lucky in these efforts.

Sometimes, we may not even know we believe in luck until fate is temped. Tempting fate is an expression described as being presumptious actions that we take to jinx ourselves. “Research suggests that negative outcomes spring to mind following a tempting fate behavior and that this heightened accessibility leads people to believe the bad outcomes are especially likely to occur. For example, people thought Jon was more likely to be rejected from Stanford, his first-choice graduate school, if he tempted fate by wearing a Stanford t-shirt while awaiting the decision than if he stuffed the shirt in his drawer (Risen & Gilovich, 2008)” (Yan et al. 1171). If you find yourself knocking on wood after you say something and hope not to jinx the statement, you may be more superstitious than you thought. Sometimes this is done just for some sort of feeling of control or assurance that you’ve done something to eliminate any trace of possible bad luck. Just in case. So even if some people don’t believe in good luck, they might still be concerned to get rid of any bad luck that could be lurking. You might not be concerned with having good luck, but perception may chance if it was the other way around. What if you had bad luck? Then would it matter? For me, no luck is definitely better than bad luck.

Works Cited

Day, Liza, and John Maltby. “Belief in Good Luck and Psychological Well-being: The Mediating Role of Optimism and Irrational Beliefs.” Journal of Psychology 137.1 (2003): 99. Print.

Nadelhoffer, Thomas. “Skill, Luck, Control, and Intentional Action.” Philosophical Psychology 18.3 (2005): 341–52. Print.

Pulford, Briony D., and Poonam Gill. “Good Luck, Bad Luck, and Ambiguity Aversion.” Judgment & Decision Making 9.2 (2014): 159–66. Print.

Yan, Zhang, Jane L. Risen, and Christine Hosey. “Reversing One’s Fortune By Pushing Away Bad Luck.” Journal Of Experimental Psychology. General 143.3 (2014): 1171–1184. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

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