Lucking After Number Won
The psychology of lottery gambling
Posted Jan 28, 2014
Most of us have probably wondered what we would do if we ever won the lottery, but the sad fact is that almost all of us won’t ever win even if we play the lottery every week for the rest of our lives. Conventional wisdom says that big jackpot lottery winners should hopefully look forward to a long life of everlasting happiness. However, research studies have found that lottery winners are euphoric very briefly before they settle back to their ‘normal’ level of happiness or unhappiness. This is because happiness is relative. There is a popular belief by some psychologists that in the long run, winning on the lottery will not make you happy. Researchers who study happiness say that everyone has a certain level of happiness that stays relatively constant but can be changed by particular events that make you happy or sad.
For instance, if you are a generally happy person and a close relative dies, research shows that after a few months or so, you will go back to the same happiness level you were previously. However, this works the other way too. Say you are a person who is not very happy in your day-to-day life. You could win the lottery and would probably be happy for a couple of months, but then you would ‘level out’ and go back at your normal unhappiness level.
There are also those groups of people who will view the acquisition of instant wealth as 'undeserved'. Basically, when people win the lottery, other people treat them differently, even if the winners don’t move out of the area or carry on in their job. This can lead to envy and resentment, not just from people who know the winners, but also from those in the locality where the winners may move. Thankfully, most large lottery operators have an experienced team of people to help winners adjust to their new life and to minimize potential problems.
The probability of winning a large lottery prize is one of the basic risk dimensions that may help us decide whether we gamble in the first place. Some mathematicians say that playing lotteries is a tribute to public innumeracy and that playing the lottery is totally irrational. However, the probabilities of winning something on the National Lottery are fairly high in comparison with other gambling activities, although the chances of winning the jackpot are very small. Therefore, most players don’t think about the actual probability of winning but rely on what we psychologists call ‘heuristic strategies’ – a fancy name for ‘rules of thumb’ – for handling the available information. What most lottery players’ concentrate on is the amount that could be won rather than the probability of doing so.
We also know that the greater the jackpot the more people will gamble. That is why more lottery tickets are sold on rollover weeks because the potential jackpot is huge. Also, by providing lots of coverage for the huge winners, it helps us forget the millions of people who lost!
Another factor that may be important in why lotteries are so financially successful is because of the ‘psychology of entrapment’ with people who choose the same numbers every week. By picking the same numbers the person may become trapped into playing every week. Each week the player thinks they are coming closer to winning. The winning day is impossible to predict but should the player decide to stop and cut their losses, they are faced with the prospect that the very next week their numbers might come up. Very simple – but effective – psychology.
References and further reading
Griffiths, M.D. (1997). Selling hope: The psychology of the National Lottery. Psychology Review, 4, 26-30.
Griffiths, M.D. (1997). The National Lottery and scratchcards: A psychological perspective. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 10, 23-26.
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The effect of winning large jackpots on human behaviour. Casino and Gaming International, 6(4), 77-80.
Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Gambling, luck and superstition: A brief psychological overview. Casino and Gaming International, 7(2), 75-80.
Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2001). The psychology of lottery gambling. International Gambling Studies, 1, 27-44.
Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Adolescent lottery and scratchcard players: Do their attitudes influence their gambling behaviour? Journal of Adolescence, 27, 467-475.