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Abstract

Spontaneous references to ‘luck’ (e.g. in the mass media) frequently occur in connection with narrow escapes from accidents. The hypothesis that lucky events are not always positive, to the same degree as unlucky events are negative, was tested by asking Norwegian and Polish students to describe incidents of good and bad luck from their own lives, These stories were subsequently evaluated by the narrators and by a group of judges. Ratings showed unlucky events to be uniformly negative whereas lucky events varied widely in attractiveness. Both were characterized by the idea that the outcome could easily have been a dramatically different one. In a parallel set of studies, pleasant and unpleasant experiences from students' everyday life were collected (without specific reference to luck) and evaluated along the same dimensions. The results confirm that unlucky and unpleasant events have more in common than lucky and pleasant ones. Pleasant and unpleasant events can be imagined to have opposite alternative outcomes, but these are felt with less immediacy than in the case of luck. It is concluded that luck attributions typically occur in situations that could easily have taken a worse turn. How lucky depends upon how easily and how much worse.