AUG 23, 2017 08:50 AM PDT

The science behind being a sore loser

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Are our brains programmed to hate losing? Well even if you've never considered yourself competitive, it turns out that psychologists have identified a phenomenon called the loss aversion, which explains that even if the outcome of a situation is the same, we feel worse when we lose something than when we gain something.

For example, take the hypothetical situation where you are given the responsibility to choose a plan to save 600 human lives from an epidemic and you are given two choices: Plan A will 100% guarantee saving 200 lives while Plan B is 33.3% likely to save everyone but 66.6% likely to save no one. When the situation is proposed with this wording, of gaining something, most people will choose Plan A. But when the wording is reconfigured into something that you will lose, saying that Plan A will 100% guarantee losing 400 lives and Plan B has a 33.3% chance of losing no one with a 66.6% chance of losing everyone, most people will choose Plan B. This psychological effect is called the risky choice framing effect and combined with the loss aversion effect makes our brains make choices that may otherwise seem illogical.

There is some evidence that our aversion to losing comes from a heightened reaction in the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotions. Knowing that emotions are so integral in our decision-making despite logical mathematics is not only interesting but can also help you out if you're ever in the role of choosing who gets to live out an epidemic! Want to learn more? Watch the video!
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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