Hating Losing vs. Liking Winning

karenThe most interesting show on NPR is Radiolab. The show’s homepage describes it like this:

Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.”

Listening to the show is invariably one of those “you had to be there” experiences, judging from the glazed expressions of my loved ones as I try to share Radiolab’s latest fantastic topics. But don’t take my word for it. By clicking the link above, you can listen for yourself, download podcasts (great for longer car trips or your daily commute), or sign up for their newsletter. Creators Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich somehow blend science, pop culture, and surprising sound effects to offer a treat for mind and ears. Picture the most interesting and effective teacher you ever had…that’s Radiolab.radiolab

A recent episode explained how and why we hate losing more than we like winning. You don’t believe it? Neither did I, until I listened to this show. After offering convincing evidence that we do hate losing, the hosts went on to explain that one industry’s very existence depends on coaxing people into losing and liking it: gambling. (Tune in at minute 13 after clicking here for a quick sip of this typical Radiolab program.)

Harrah’s casino, through use of its customer loyalty cards, can track precisely how much losing any one of us is willing to tolerate. In possession of that knowledge, the casino can then intervene just before we cut our losses and leave, typically by offering us a little freebie, like a comped meal or some extra cash. Apparently, this works pretty well.

casinoAnd that, of course, had me thinking about teaching. Have you ever noticed that students are often reluctant to answer a question posed during class, even though you are quite certain that they know the answer? Could it be that students hate losing, i.e.  being embarrassed by a wrong answer, more than they like winning the approval of the instructor or their peers? If so, is there a way to sweeten the pot for a correct answer to keep them from walking out of the educational casino? Maybe I could intervene with a little enticement to keep them in the game a bit longer.

Yesterday I posted about the “traveling trophy.” I’ve also reported my success with stickers and candy. Our college has adopted an online program, Starfish, that allows faculty to send “Kudos” to students for improved or outstanding performance, and students seem to love it. Perhaps the most potent incentive to stay and play in the educational game is warm personal acknowledgment of a student’s effort. Maybe I should issue loyalty cards to help me keep my students playing the learning game.


One comment on “Hating Losing vs. Liking Winning

  1. Brian Leslie Coatney says:

    I like how this is put. It got me thinking.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s