Who do you think will be more disappointed in the following cases:
You are running a raffle to give away iPad. The winner will be picked using raffle tickets. Each person gets either a blue ticket or a yellow ticket. There are 100 each and the tickets are numbered sequentially with blue tickets numbered from 738000 and yellow tickets numbered from 637000. People keep the stub and drop their tickets in a glass bowl (blue and red in same bowl).
Just before you pick a winner you announce – blue tickets are not going to be picked. You hear a collective awww from the audience. Then you go on to pick a yellow ticket and announce the winner.
Who will be more disappointed – 100 blue ticket holders or the 99 yellow ticket holders who did not win.
Say the winning yellow ticket number is 637065. Who will be more disappointed – person with ticket number 637000 or 637066,637064?
- What if you handed out 150 blue tickets and only 50 yellow tickets and the rest of the process is the same?
- What if you were raffling two iPads instead of one and still disqualify all blue ticket holders?
- What if you were raffling two iPads and say one winner per ticket color?
- What if you were raffling two iPads and say both winners will be picked randomly regardless of color?
I have my hypothesis – here it is.
I read an article about Meryl Streep’s interview with ABC news on Oscar nomination. Meryl Streep was quoted as saying,
while it’s an honor, sometimes you wind up feeling “worse when you lose than you did before you got nominated.”
When you see many movies promoting even the nomination of the lead actors it might seem surprising that Ms.Streep feels getting nominated and not winning is worse than not getting nominated at all. An explanation to this come from Behavioral Economics. Professor Dan Ariely, the author of the book Predictably Irrational, explains this as “Upward Comparison“. He explains a study that found silver medalists in Olympics to be less happier than bronze medalists.
Silver medalists at the Olympics seem to perform what we call an upward comparison — they compare themselves against someone better off than them. Bronze medalists seem to perform downward comparison — they tend to compare themselves with people who did worse.
In the Oscar case there are no bronze nominees , everyone who was nominated but did not win are the silver medalists who find themselves too close yet too far. On the other hand when they were not nominated most tend compare to many others who are not and take solace in media criticism of nomination committee that overlooked certain key performances.
One addition to the upward comparison explanation is the long expectation period from nomination to awards night during which the nominees may build up expectation and hope which was not there before they were nominated.
When the field narrows and the hope builds the loss looks more than it actually is.