NPR logo
Near Wins, And Not Quites: How Almost Winning Can Be Motivating
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/439489290/444464729" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Near Wins, And Not Quites: How Almost Winning Can Be Motivating

Near Wins, And Not Quites: How Almost Winning Can Be Motivating

Near Wins, And Not Quites: How Almost Winning Can Be Motivating
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/439489290/444464729" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Country music singer Kacey Musgraves says she's not "pageant material." But she holds her own in a game of Mad Scientist with Shankar Vedantam on this week's episode of Hidden Brain. i

Country music singer Kacey Musgraves says she's not "pageant material." But she holds her own in a game of Mad Scientist with Shankar Vedantam on this week's episode of Hidden Brain. Wade Payne/AP hide caption

toggle caption Wade Payne/AP
Country music singer Kacey Musgraves says she's not "pageant material." But she holds her own in a game of Mad Scientist with Shankar Vedantam on this week's episode of Hidden Brain.

Country music singer Kacey Musgraves says she's not "pageant material." But she holds her own in a game of Mad Scientist with Shankar Vedantam on this week's episode of Hidden Brain.

Wade Payne/AP

Monica Wadhwa had a thing for lottery tickets. As a teenager in India she was obsessed with winning a fortune. Until one day, when she actually came very close to winning, and inadvertently learned that a "near victory" can be incredibly motivating. We'll hear her story on this week's episode of the podcast.

Then, Daniel Pink is back for another round of Stopwatch Science! He and Shankar share a bunch of interesting research about the science of what motivates us to reach our goals.

And, finally, country music singer Kacey Musgraves stops by to tell us about her album Pageant Material and to play a new game we're calling "Mad Scientist."


Near Wins

Many young teenagers have obsessions. For Monica Wadhwa, it was the lottery.

"As a child, I kind of wanted to have tons of money, right? And ... I was lazy. So, lottery tickets was my answer to [the] good life," Monica says.

Her dad worried that Monica's lottery habit was distracting her from her schoolwork (not to mention costing him a lot of money). He allowed her to buy one last lottery ticket before a big exam.

She anxiously awaited the results, which came in a certain newspaper. Winning required getting six digits that matched.

"I remember I was supremely excited," Monica says about looking at the results in the paper that day. "Looking at the first, yes it matched. The second, yes it matched. Third, yes it matched. And I'm just there. I am going to be a millionaire in just about one second, right? Fourth one matched."

But the fifth number did not.

Monica was disappointed that she didn't win. But also, surprisingly, she felt excited.

"I was an almost winner," Monica says. "How many people actually get almost there?"

Her dad was concerned that the loss would distract her from the exam, but Monica found it was exactly the opposite. If anything, she studied harder for her upcoming exam and performed well. And later she realized that even though the test was unrelated to the lottery, her "almost win" had made her more motivated to "win" at something.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and these "almost wins" have become the subject of Monica's research.

Stopwatch Science

Now, for another round of Stopwatch Science — our rapid-fire science game with author Dan Pink. Dan and Shankar agree on a topic, and each brings two pieces of research to share. They have 60 seconds to convey each idea.

In this week's edition of Stopwatch Science, Dan and Shankar stick to the theme of near victories and motivation. They tell us about research on when we give to charities and how different things motivate us when we are close to a goal. Dan brings in some interesting research that uses two of his "favorite technologies": fMRIs and slot machines. Shankar explains why physical elevation can change motivation and suggests that he and Dan should tape Stopwatch Science in a basement studio.

Mad Scientist with Kacey Musgraves

This week we're introducing a new game called Mad Scientist! Social scientists devise all kinds of experiments to learn about human behavior. On Mad Scientist, Shankar explains the premise of a study to his guest, and they have to guess the outcome of the research.

Our first victim is country music singer Kacey Musgraves. The title song on her album, Pageant Material, got Shankar thinking about winning and losing.

In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Thomas Gilovich and his colleagues looked at videotape of silver and bronze medalists from the 1992 Summer Olympics.

"We all know that winning silver is better than winning bronze," Shankar says. But who looked happier?

Listen to the podcast to find out.

The Hidden Brain Podcast is produced by Kara McGuirk-Alison and Maggie Penman. Follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, @karamcguirk and @maggiepenman, and listen for Hidden Brain stories every week on your local public radio station.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.