Luck, Illusion, Success: Humanist Media Awardee Richard Wiseman Entertains It All

Richard Wiseman (photo by Antje M. Pohsegger)

British psychologist, speaker, and author Richard Wiseman is known around the world for his innovative research into the psychology of luck, self-help, persuasion, and illusion.

Wiseman started out as a magician, performing street shows around Covent Garden in London’s West End from an early age. He studied psychology at University College London and continued his focus on the science of behavior and mind, obtaining his PhD in that field from the University of Edinburgh. Today he is a professor at the University of Hertfordshire, where he holds Britain’s only Professorship in the Public Understanding of Psychology.

Wiseman is a prolific author whose books have sold over three million copies worldwide and been translated into more than twenty languages. Many of these works explore the science of success and focus on practical, evidence-based techniques to improve people’s personal and professional lives. They include: The Luck Factor (2003); Quirkology (2007), which looks at the psychology of so-called quirks like laughter, lying, and love; and 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (2009), on the science of self-help and techniques one can learn in under a minute. One such suggestion:

The next time you are trying to be creative in a meeting, gently lean forward and pull against the table. When the going gets tough, cross your arms to help perseverance in the face of failure. If that doesn’t work, lie down. If anyone accuses you of being lazy, quietly explain that you are employing your locus coeruleus in the war against rigid thinking.

In that same book, Wiseman stressed the importance of experiences over stuff:

Want to buy happiness? Then spend your hard-earned cash on experiences. Go out for a meal. Go to a concert, movie, or the theater. Go on vacation. Go and learn how to pole dance. Go play paintball. Go bungee jumping. In fact, get involved in anything that provides an opportunity to do things with others, and then tell even more people about it afterward. When it comes to happiness, remember, it is experiences that represent really good value for the money.

Other popular titles by Wiseman include Paranormality: Why We See What Isn’t There (2011); and Night School: Wake up to the Power of Sleep (2014). His latest, Shoot for the Moon (2019), is described as a study of the mindset that took humans to the moon and how that mindset can be adopted for individual success.

The investigation and critical examination of the paranormal and other psychic phenomenon is another area of Wiseman’s interest and expertise. “I find it amazing how malleable people’s testimonies are, and also quite terrifying,” he said in a 2011 interview with the Scotsman in regard to why people believe in the paranormal. He also takes issue with people’s faith in the power of prayer:

I’m always very skeptical of anything which is low-input but makes you feel good. Whenever anybody does very little and it makes them feel good, you almost certainly know it’s for their benefit and no one else.

Having delved into myriad aspects of illusion and delusion throughout his career, Wiseman concludes that magicians are the “most honest liars… because they tell you they are going to lie to you, and then they do, [and] you’d be disappointed if they didn’t.”

“I still love street stuff because it’s the hardest job in entertainment,” he recalled to the Scotsman, noting that if people don’t like a street magician’s act, they walk away. “You learn very quickly to adapt or just get out of there.”

Wiseman has certainly learned what audiences like over the course of his interesting career. He’s one of the most followed psychologists on Twitter, his illusion-based YouTube videos have attracted over 500 million views, and he’s been a creative consultant on shows like Ghost Stories and Brain Games. He has presented keynote addresses to the Swiss Economic Forum, Google, and Amazon, and the Independent On Sunday chose him as one of the top 100 people who make Britain a better place to live.

A patron of Humanists UK, Wiseman is also a distinguished supporter of Humanist Society Scotland and a fellow for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. On Friday, June 7, Richard Wiseman will receive the Humanist Media Award at Rice University in Houston, Texas. This is the second segment of the American Humanist Association’s 78th Annual Conference, taking place at five university locations around the country and streaming live. Find out more about the conference and how to attend or view here!