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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 05-Nov-10


Friday 05-November-10

Gamblers' indirect illusion

Why do people gamble? Apart from those clever few who have remarkable memories and computational capability, gamblers, by and large, lose their money, and sometimes horribly large amounts. The reasons for losing are twofold: either you plan to lose or you hope to win.

Intentional losers know the score. They are there for the stimulation and fun. They take a fixed amount into the casino or book-keeper's and are not tempted to over-spend. They treat the expense in the same way as going to the cinema or a show -- you pay money and you have some fun in return. They usually bet in small amounts as the entertainment value is similar whatever the stakes. Given the entry stake limitation they then measure their success either in how long the money lasts or how much money is left when it is time to go home.

The hopers are actually no-hopers. They believe in luck and the Gambler's Fallacy of the 'winning streak'. Unlike professional gamblers they have a very poor understanding of statistics as they believe that random probabilities can be bent by will, fate and fortune. Gambling has been called a 'tax on losers' and these are the losers who lose out, sometimes big time as they pour every penny and more down the drain. The only benefit is a quick fix of hope that is soon dashed by the disappointment of failure.

A deep reason for gambling is to boost one's sense of control ('If I cheat chance I can control anything!'). And just like other ways of achieving this feeling, we will hand the reins (and money) over to others iif we feel they are luckier than us. This "illusion of control by proxy" was shown by researchers Michael Wohl and Michael Enzle.

Students conversed with what they thought were other participants (but were really stooges). When these people described themselves as really lucky, or as being in the middle of a lucky run, the students were far more likely to want them to pick a scratch card, or to spin a roulette wheel on their behalf.

Sad, perhaps, but it shows how many believe in 'luck' to a potentially unlucky degree. In changing minds, it can be a factor to consider and you should never appear unlucky and perhaps may find some useful leverage to boost your own luck.

Wohl, M., & Enzle, M. (2009). Illusion of control by proxy: Placing one's fate in the hands of another. British Journal of Social Psychology, 48 (1), 183-200

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