Does Picking a Winner Lessen the Fun of Watching a Contest?

Michael Giberson

I have a post up at Midas Oracle about some research into the effects of picking an outcome on the enjoyment a person gets from watching a contest. Here’s the first part:

“When people make these predictions, they have this little sliver of doubt – ‘What if I’m wrong?,’” [Stephen] Nowlis says. … The researchers dubbed this emotion “anticipated regret.”

A pair Arizona State University professors, Stephen Nowlis and Naomi Mandel, have research forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research in which they claim that predicting an outcome takes the fun out of watching the event.

My personal experience is pretty much the opposite. So while I find the research interesting, I don’t believe they have fully understood the phenomena. Of course, they’ve done the research and I am just reporting introspection and anecdote, so weigh my commentary appropriately.

You can read the rest of the post at Midas Oracle, and I’ve also cross-posted the rest of it here in the continuation.


I couldn’t find the actual research article online, but here are selected points from a story about the research appearing on the ASU Carey School of Business website:

[Nowlis and Mandel] found that when people make a prediction about an event – whether it’s the basketball games of March Madness, the singing showdown on “American Idol,” or the all-or-nothing Super Bowl – their enjoyment of that experience is inevitably lessened.

In other words, the researchers say, the very action that would seem to give viewers an actual stake in these experiences – that is, having something to win (or lose) – is also the very thing that makes the viewing experience uncomfortable and, even, unpleasant.

On its face, Nowlis admits the finding seems counterintuitive. And, sports betting is skyrocketing in popularity.…

In my experience – mostly small-time office pools, various on-line contests, and play-money prediction markets – making a prediction enhances my interest and enjoyment of an event. For example, I watched more American Idol, was more interested, and enjoyed it more because of a friendly bet among family members and positions taken on the Inkling “American Idol” market. Were it not for these outside interests, I would have stopped watching after the show finished with the regional qualifiers. I also cared more about the NCAA men’s basketball tournament because of office pools, ESPN’s online bracket contest, and, again, a couple of Inkling markets.

The article concludes with some speculation about why the prediction business is booming if people find it so unpleasant. It makes some sense to me that the immediate experience of watching the event may have been more stressful, perhaps because the predicting participants felt like they had something at stake, but I suspect that later the more involved participants remembered the experience more favorably. I would guess that the predicting participants would remember more details about the event a few days afterwards, too.

More from the article:

With the “prediction” business booming, Nowlis says, it would be natural to assume prediction-based marketing schemes would be a good thing for business, but the results of the study just don’t bear that out.

Well, based on the description in the article, it is probably safe to say that you shouldn’t corral a bunch of your customers, randomly required half of them to make predictions about events that they may not care about, give them too little information to predict with, and then make them all sit and watch a recorded event.

My inclination is to believe that the “prediction” business is booming for good reason, and the study doesn’t help explain why.

[Cross posted from Midas Oracle.]


One thought on “Does Picking a Winner Lessen the Fun of Watching a Contest?

  1. The second worst thing you can do to take all of the joy out of watching your favorite football team is to join the office pool. Instead of just rooting for your team, you become obsessed with covering the spread.

    The absolute worst thing that you can do is engage in a fantasy league. Then, instead of carring about your team, all you care about your guys.

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