Toward standardized usage of the word serendipity in the historiography of psychopharmacology

Alan A. Baumeister, Psychology Department, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA.
Mike F. Hawkins
Francisco López-Muñoz


Contradictory views are expressed in the literature about the role played by serendipity in discoveries that led to modern psychopharmacology. This article attempts to resolve these contradictions by providing an operational definition of serendipity. The utility of the proposed definition is explored in the context of 18 discoveries. The results show that the most common pattern in the development of early psychiatric medications is serendipitous observation leading to non-serendipitous demonstration of clinical utility. The analysis also reveals examples of relatively pure serendipitous and non-serendipitous discoveries. The proposed definition appears to be reliable and valid.