If you had just bought a lottery ticket, would you be willing to swap it? If you’re like most people, the answer would be an emphatic ‘No’. But why? Given that a properly-run lottery is an entirely random affair, mathematical theory dictates that your chances of winning won’t change whether you swap or not.*
Academia has tackled this question before, but recently, Jane L. Risen, now Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Thomas D. Gilovich, Professor and Department Chair of Psychology at Cornell University, New York, decided to take another look.
A group of four controlled studies undertaken at Cornell experimentally investigated why owners of lottery tickets appear reluctant to trade them in for a different ticket, even when they are offered an incentive for doing so. “Two explanations for this reluctance have been offered.” explain the team. “First, people may refrain from taking such actions because of anticipated regret: They know that they will feel worse if their action leads to an undesirable result than if their inaction does Thus, they avoid acting to avoid kicking themselves for a particularly painful mistake.” And/or secondly : “…people may believe that the odds of achieving a favorable outcome are better if they stay where they are than if they make a switch.”
The results of all four studies (involving 301 participants) confirmed (again) that people are reluctant to swap tickets. And the professorial team offer an explanation :
“We contend that the elevated perceived likelihood of an exchanged ticket winning is due to the tendency to entertain the painful possibility that the exchanged ticket will win.”
But with the proviso, perhaps hinting at further research possibilities :
“Do people really believe that a lottery ticket is more likely to win if they give it up? Yes and no.”
See: Risen, J.L., & Gilovich, T. (2007). Another look at why people are reluctant to exchange lottery tickets. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 12-22.
Also of Note : Professor Gilovich has previously featured in the the archives of Improbable Research for his contributions to the paper ‘When Less is More: Counterfactual Thinking and Satisfaction Among Olympic Medalists,’ V.H. Medvec, S.F. Madey, T. Gilovich, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 69, no. 4, October 1995, pp. 603-10.
*Could any ‘random walk’ theorists confirm this for us? Many thanks, Martin G.