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OT: Hate to Lose or Love to Win? On Cupcake Theory and Monkeynomics

Although the question isn’t a new one, I’ve been thinking about how the “hate to lose” versus “love to win” divide plays out in sports and other areas of endeavor. Jimmy Connors famously said he hates to lose even more than he loves to win. It turns out, Jimmy is not alone in this. As Steven Pinker, a Canadian-American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and popular science author, notes in “The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature,” the “hate to lose” mindset typifies people generally:

Now, it’s been independently shown that people hate to lose something more than they enjoy gaining it. For example, they don’t mind paying for something with a credit card even when told there is a discount for cash, but they hate paying the same amount if they are told there is a surcharge for using credit. As a result, people will often refuse to gamble for an expected profit (they turn down bets such as “Heads, you win $120; tails, you pay $100”), but they will gamble to avoid an expected loss (such as “Heads, you no longer owe $120; tails, you now owe an additional $100).

Pinker says this is an illustration of “framing” – that the ways in which options are described (i.e. “framed”) affects the choices people make. That may seem obvious, but the way it plays out can be surprising. Here’s Pinker again:

"The most famous example of the effects of framing comes from an experiment by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, who posed the following problem to a sample of doctors: A new strain of flu is expected to kill 600 people. Two programs to combat the disease have been proposed.” Some of the doctors were then presented with the following dilemma:

If program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved. If program B is adopted,there is a one-third probability that 600 people will be saved and a two-thirds probability that no people will be saved. Which of the two programs do you favor?

If you’re like most of the doctors who were given this choice, you will pick program A, the sure option, rather than program B, the risky one. The other set of doctors was presented with a different dilemma:

If program C is adopted, 400 people will die. If program D is adopted, there is a one-third probability that nobody will die and a two-thirds probability that 600 people will die. Which of the two programs would you favor?

If you’re like most of the doctors who faced this choice, you will program C, the sure option, and gamble with program D, the risky one.

If you reread the two dilemmas carefully, however, you will notice that the choices are identical. If 600 people would die in the absence of treatment, then saving 200 people is the same as losing 400 people, and saving no one is the same as losing everyone. Yet the doctors flipped their preference depending on how the same menu of options was framed.

The crucial difference in wording alluded to a difference in metaphors. The people who would be saved after receiving the treatment were construed as a “gain” over what would have happened if the epidemic were left untreated, whereas the people who would die were considered a “loss” against what would have happened if the epidemic had never arrived."

So, what does all this have to do with sports? Well, according to one hockeyblogger, Justin Bourne, alot. ose who are high on the “hate to lose” scale have the right stuff to win, at least in hockey. Bourne explains in terms of what I call Cupcake Theory. For more on that, as well as a wonderful video from a 2010 Ted conference on how “hate to lose” translates in monkeynomics, click on the link following link, which leads to an even longer post on