Being lucky may be a matter of observing things you weren’t planning to observe


On BBC's The One Show, presenter Michael Mosley tests a theory of Professor Richard Wiseman that part of being lucky is simply being more aware of incidental information in your surroundings, information seemingly unrelated to the task at hand but which may ultimately help you achieve your goal.

(Professor Wiseman has many interesting videos on YouTube. I particularly like the colour-changing card trick. (Spoiler: I noticed only one of the changes myself. What I found fascinating was that he made no effort to hide the sound of the backdrop changing, because he knew nobody would notice.)

We've seen manifestations of this phenomenon earlier, such as learning about what is ordinary so you can recognize things that are out of the ordinary, or people who ignore the answer that's right in front of them even after it's pointed out to them.

Comments (13)
  1. Neil says:

    Ironically in the colour-changing card trick, the card itself was the only thing whose colour didn’t actually change.

    I watched the video in the office with the sound off so I guess I didn’t get the full effect.

  2. mikeb says:

    Jeez – that color-changing card trick video sure made me feel like a fool…  I blame it on  having watched it right after getting up (no coffee yet…).  

    This reminds me of an old online card trick:

    http://www.indianchild.com/card_trick1.htm

  3. Bryan says:

    The best part of the online card trick is that the easiest way to figure it out is to not follow directions.

  4. Phill says:

    I like this one:

    http://growabrain.typepad.com/growabrain/2004/11/white_shirts_ex.html

    Works to varying effect but I have to admit it worked on me.

  5. Tom says:

    Thanks, Neil, for giving away the punchline that Raymond hid in invisible font.

  6. John says:

    Snape kills Dumbledore.

    This text is extra crap to get past the filters.  Please ignore it.

  7. James Schend says:

    Wow, Phill… not only does Java in browsers still exist, there’s at least one site left with it.

  8. MS says:

    I love this comment on the page in the very last link:

    "[Try turning the monitor around so the bright side faces you. -Raymond]"

    That’s what we call a mega-burn.  I wasn’t planning on observing it, but I just might have to borrow it!  Lucky!

  9. chrismcb says:

    I read an article in Discover about "lucky" people. They did a set up at a coffee shop and invited (at different times) two people, one considered "lucky" and the other "unlucky."

    The lucky person spotted the 5 dollar bill on the ground in the doorway, while the unlucky person missed it.

    The lucky person sat down next to the well dressed businessman and started up a conversation (hence expanding his network of people and potential "I know some who can help") While the "unlucky" patron sat by herself and didn’t speak to anyone.

  10. What the *hell* are you doing watching the One Show Raymond?!! That’s like a completely random rubbish-y UK TV show!

  11. Keris says:

    While the colour-changing card trick didn’t fully get me (I spend way too much of my free time doing art, thus large shifts in color attract my attention), this is also a very good example of how video can shape perception.  If you pay attention you can see the changes, but since the camera is literally directing your attention for you, the actual act of changing is not captured at all.  The same with Phill’s link; by purposely constraining the field of view, crowding it with activity, and desaturating the colors, you are forced into an information overload and can miss minor changes when given an observation task.

    chrismcb, the article you read, if it was testing two people who considered themselves to be lucky or unlucky, would be more about self-fulfilling prophecy than anything else.  People who think well of themselves are more proactive and likely to see opportunities than people who are too busy feeling self pity.

  12. yak says:

    WTF? Men don’t pay attention to clothes anyway :-)

    Women, OTOH, can remember the clothes i wore last week :-P

    And i still don’t know how the card trick is done.

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