A near miss means you still lose

Tuesday, May 18th, 2021

In 2010, a cognitive neuroscientist named Reza Habib asked twenty-two people to lie inside an MRI, Charles Duhigg explains (in The Power of Habit), and watch a slot machine spin around and around. The pathological gamblers got more excited about winning:

“But what was really interesting were the near misses. To pathological gamblers, near misses looked like wins. Their brains reacted almost the same way. But to a nonpathological gambler, a near miss was like a loss. People without a gambling problem were better at recognizing that a near miss means you still lose.”

In the late 1990s, one of the largest slot machine manufacturers hired a former video game executive to help them design new slot machines:

That executive’s insight was to program machines to deliver more near wins. Now, almost every slot contains numerous twists — such as free spins and sounds that erupt when icons almost align — as well as small payouts that make players feel like they are winning when, in truth, they are putting in more money than they are getting back. “No other form of gambling manipulates the human mind as beautifully as these machines,” an addictive-disorder researcher at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine told a New York Times reporter in 2004.

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