is it about lotteries that makes us take a punt despite the
phenomenal odds against us winning?
Mark Griffiths, has been investigating why people are
so attracted to lotteries.
says that people are drawn in by the huge amount they can win.
Lotteries require a low stake and you could potentially win
millions of pounds.
people buy a lottery ticket they don't think about the actual
chances of winning, they think of the money they could win.
also believes that people tend to overestimate the chance of
something good happening to them even if the odds are infinitesimal
whereas people often underestimate the chance of something bad
you were told that you have a one in fourteen million chance
of getting cancer in the next seven days people will say 'oh
well it is obviously not going to happen to me it is so infinitesimal'
but the fact that there is a one in fourteen million chance
of winning the lottery people think 'yes, it's got to be someone
why can't it be me'"
was so close...
you buy a ticket for the lottery that has the number 37 on it
and the number 38 is drawn, you think, "I was so close..." BUT
were you? Mark Griffiths says
the psychology of the near miss is particularly well known in
the gaming industry.
people pick a number they attach some sort of value to it. If
you pick the number 9 and the number 8 or number 10 shows up
you can think you have a near miss or if the number 29 or 39
turns up you could perceive it as a near miss. Some people will
even interpret a number 6 as an upside down nine and consequently
a near miss.
much potential is very reinforcing and makes people want to
Mark thinks that people do not really understand the odds of
the lottery. They don't understand that each number retains
the same chance of winning no matter how many draws take place.
In a recent survey 21% of people thought that if they put the
same numbers on to the lottery for the rest of their lives that
they would have a chance of winning. The reality is they would
have to put the same numbers on 135 000 years before they would
have an evens chance of winning.
really don't understand what it means to have a one-in-a-14-million chance. People have no idea how big 14 million is."
I tell you the chance of your toe operation going wrong is 6%,
are you worried?
Sounds pretty low doesn't it.
I tell you that the odds of failure are 1 in 16, how does that
affect your perception of the risk involved?
actual fact, these figures both mean that you have a 94% chance
of success. Maths helps to get everything in perspective, to
assess risk logically.
reality of chance
got Mickey mouse socks on and so have you..."
Is this a co-incidence?
to Professor Ian
Stewart We live in a world where there are so many things
going on that every so often you are going to find a couple
of them that match.
He says we notice these co-incidences because our minds have
evolved to do so.
of years ago when we were out on the african plains, it was very
important to size up a situation quickly and take a decision.
If you saw a flash of orange behind a rock, you couldn't say
'oh it might be a lion', of course it might not be a lion... at
that point the lion would have leapt on you, if you say 'Ah! Lion!'
and run you are still alive."
of the children fathered by Israeli pilots are girls
that amazing but what's the explanation?
a reproductive biologist Dr
Jack Cohen was asked to find an explanation
for this phenomenon.
no idea what the explanation is but I'll make a prediction from
now on it will be 50/50."
believes the answer is not a biological one but one of mathematics
and random data. The theory is that if you look back over any
kind of history there are going to be little clumps of irrational
example you might find that at some point in time all the wives
of Israeli airline pilots were blue eyed but this would just
be one of the clumps in random data that you are going to get.
This is because random data isn't spread out evenly, it occurs
predicts a co-incidence
puts the co-incidences that have happened in perspective are
all the ones that MIGHT have happened. Ian
Stewart and Jack
Cohen took a trip to Sweden in search of a near co-incidence.
began by predicting that there would be a co-incidence. He predicted
that they would meet someone they knew at Arlanda Airport in
enough they ran into a colleague of theirs called Stefano at
the airport information desk. This was their co-incidence but
what if Stefano had been going through exactly the same airport
but on a different day or even an hour later, or what if he
hadn't gone to the information desk. They wouldn't have noticed
the things that just miss must be much more common than the
things that actually happen."
prove their theory what Jack and Ian needed was a co-incidence
that might have happened but didn't.
weeks later, they were telling a friend called Ted about their
airport experience. Ted asked which hotel they had stayed in?
Then he asked which day they had stayed there. Bingo! Ted revealed
that he had been in the same hotel a day later. Ted being in
the same hotel in Stockholm on the same day as Jack and Ian
was the co-incidence that almost happened but didn't!