Most people aren’t shocked when they don’t win the lottery. The odds are heavily stacked against them and there is little they could have done differently to change the outcome. They might feel differently however, if they had at one point owned the winning ticket but made the decision to trade it. They would most likely feel some, if not overwhelming, regret.
We asked people to sell us their Powerball tickets after the jackpot had risen to $1.5 billion. We offered more than the cost of the ticket. This seemed like a pretty good offer. They could buy a new ticket and pocket the extra cash to come out ahead. Since the odds of winning with the new ticket are exactly the same. However, a cognitive bias known as regret avoidance can make it difficult for people to choose the extra cash. The anticipated regret of giving up what might be the winning ticket weighs heavily on their decision.
Regret avoidance in a lottery was tested on Israeli college students in a 1996 study. The students were given lottery tickets and told that one of them would be chosen to win $17. The students were offered expensive-looking chocolate if they agreed to trade tickets with a classmate. 59% of the students refused to trade even though they were just as likely to win with a new ticket and had the added incentive.
Produced by Jenner Deal and Sara Silverstein