Decoding Success: The Role of Luck, Ability, and Social Perceptions

The Role of Luck and Ability in Success

In the competitive arenas of sports, business, and other fields, the factors contributing to success are often debated

Read more: Decoding Success: The Role of Luck, Ability, and Social Perceptions

A comprehensive study, “Ability or luck: A systematic review of interpersonal attributions of success” by Odessa S. Hamilton and Grace Lordan, published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2023, provides crucial insights into how success is perceived, especially regarding the roles of luck and ability and how these perceptions are influenced by gender and race.

Exploring the Dynamics of Success Attribution

Traditionally, academic discourse has placed minor emphasis on the role of luck in success, focusing more on individual ability. This systematic review shifts the focus to interpersonal attributions of success, analyzing whether these attributions differ based on gender and race. Understanding how success is perceived across different sociodemographic groups is vital for fostering inclusion and diversity, particularly as women and ethnic minorities continue to face systematic disadvantages in many professional environments.

Methodological Approach: A Comprehensive Review

Utilizing the Prisma protocol, the study reviewed experiments published between 1970 and 2020 from five electronic bibliographic databases. This extensive approach helped gather a wide range of perspectives on how success is attributed in various contexts and among different demographic groups.

Key Findings: Intersection of Luck, Ability, and Sociodemographics

The review revealed intriguing patterns. While there were a limited number of gender-focused studies that found significant effects, the research relating to race was more conclusive. It showed that black individuals are often perceived as being lucky rather than able in their success, leading to fewer opportunities and rewards. This finding underscores the persistent biases and systematic errors in attributing success by gender and race.

The Impact of Luck and Privilege

One critical aspect the study highlights is the often-overlooked role of luck, which can conceal and augment privilege. Ignoring luck in the equation of success can inadvertently uphold societal biases, affecting how talent and achievements are recognized and rewarded.

Implications for Inclusion and Opportunity

This systematic review emphasizes the need for a deeper understanding of the contextual factors influencing success attributions. Recognizing the biases in these attributions is crucial for creating more equitable and inclusive environments, whether in sports, business, or other sectors.

Understanding how success is attributed is key to addressing systemic disparities and promoting diversity. This research sheds light on the often-subtle biases that shape our perceptions of ability and luck, offering a foundation for more inclusive policies and practices.


Hamilton and Lordan’s study, “Ability or luck: A systematic review of interpersonal attributions of success,” is a significant contribution to understanding the complex dynamics of success attribution. It highlights the importance of recognizing the roles of luck and ability, along with the influence of gender and race, in shaping how success is perceived and rewarded. For leaders, policymakers, and educators, this study provides valuable insights for fostering a more equitable and inclusive understanding of success in various domains.


Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

Hamilton, O. S., & Lordan, G. (2023). Ability or luck: A systematic review of interpersonal attributions of success. Frontiers in Psychology, 13.

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