Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Lottery winners, motivation, and emotion

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Lottery winners, motivation, and emotion
What are the motivational and emotional impacts of winning a lottery?

Overview[edit | edit source]

A lottery is a form of gambling that involves the drawing of numbers at random for a prize which could range from material prizes like money and vouchers to social awards like a place on a team. Some governments outlaw lotteries, while others endorse it to the extent of organising a national or state lottery. Lotteries take in different outward forms, but the core of all lotteries is identical: by definition, they are games of luck. A person cannot improve their chances of winning with skills or intelligence; if they can, the lottery is seen as defective.

To understand the impacts on a person’s motivation and emotion when they win a lottery, theories such as David McClelland's Human Motivation Theory, prospect theory by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, and Ira Roseman's appraisal theory have been applied.

Focus questions:

  • What is a lottery and what does it mean to win it?
  • Why do people gamble on the lottery?
  • What are the motivational impacts of winning a lottery?
  • What are the emotional impacts of winning a lottery?

What is a lottery?[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Lottery tickets.

A lottery is defined as a low-odds game of chance or process in which winners are selected by a random process. By this definition lotteries can be used in decision-making situations such as sports team drafts or the allocation of scarce medical treatment. Lotteries take different outward forms. More commonly, a lottery is a popular form of gambling which involves payment of a small amount of money to receive a ticket (see Figure 1) for a chance to win a larger sum of money or “jackpot”, often administered by the state of federal governments (Ariyabuddhiphongs, 2011).

What does it mean to win a lottery?[edit | edit source]

If a person is lucky enough to get the call that they have won a big lottery, it is likely their first reaction will be shock ‘of a magnitude that has never been felt before’.  This is often followed by emotions such as joy, fear, a sense of the unknown, and even sadness for no apparent reason (Nisslé & Bschor, 2002) before logic steps in and plans begin to form (Ariyabuddhiphongs, 2011). After the initial reactions have subsided and the thought process has returned, people can have very different responses. For some it means paying off debts, for others it means achieving dreams or may be just enjoying life.

Once a person been declared the winner of a lottery, the prize(s) received, how to the claim the prize(s), how much is received in a certain time frame, and what is permitted to be done with the prize(s) all depend on the type of lottery and where the lottery is based.

Why do people gamble on a lottery?[edit | edit source]

It is hard to pinpoint an exact reason why a person allows chance to determine the results of an activity based on random selection. Frameworks have been developed to conduct empirical research into the motivation to gamble on a lottery which use variables that can be divided into three categories: demographic variables (e.g. gender, age, education, socioeconomic status(SES)), psychological variables (e.g. attitudes, norms, motivations), and behavioural variables.

Demographic variables[edit | edit source]

It is impossible to identify a specific ethnicity, age and gender of persons likely to purchase lottery tickets. However, most demographic studies of lottery gamblers conclude the majority of participants are in lower SES. According to these studies, those living in lower SES gamble more as they see the lottery as a way to escape difficult life conditions and can see no other solution (Ariyabuddhiphongs, 2011; Haisley et al., 2008). Collected sales data of lotteries has showed a strong and positive relationship between sales and poverty rates (Blalock et al., 2007). These findings can be supported by findings that lottery sales in areas with lower SES have larger jackpot sizes than areas with economically advantaged populations (Guryan & Kearney, 2008; Haisley et al., 2008). Even those who believe that their own income low in comparison to some type of societal standard are more likely to purchase lottery tickets (Haisley et al., 2008; Nyman, 2004).

Psychological variables[edit | edit source]

The theory of planned behaviour has outlined the psychological variable of intention as an important predictor in the decision to play the lottery (Walker et al., 2006). Another important variable is anticipatory regret, being defined as the sense of regret that the gamblers feel to discover that their regular numbers were drawn when they did not purchase the tickets, has been found to influence the decision to play in the lottery (Wolfson & Briggs, 2002; Zeelenberg & Pieters, 2004). Perhaps the number one motivator is that gambling can be seen as a thrill: just being in the game is enough for some, even when the likelihood of winning is essentially zero (Ariyabuddhiphongs, 2011). Though it might be short-lived, a little jolt of hope is a motivator for many, especially those who have won smaller lotteries in the past. Referred to as an ‘intermittent reward’, an occasional reward can make it difficult for some to pass up the opportunity to take part in lotteries with bigger prizes (Gardner & Oswald, 2007).

Lottery gambling has also been found to relate to a person’s personality traits. A study based in the UK on the frequency of national lottery play found that it was related to lower self-control, lower intellectual efficiency, lower status, lower achievement via independence, and lower responsibility (Cook et al., 1998). However other researchers have found that consumers with internal locus of control and high desire for control played the lottery to the greatest extent (Sprott et al., 2001). Lottery and scratch cards purchasers were more likely to be positively correlated to the extraversion dimension of personality, and negatively correlated to be agreeableness and intellect dimensions (George, 2002).

Behavioural variables[edit | edit source]

Using the biopsychosocial mode, three primary subgroups of gamblers have been identified: biologically based impulsive, emotionally vulnerable, and behaviourally conditioned (Kusyszyn, 1984). The first two subgroups can be explained by heredity and psychological variables as seen above. However, explaining the behaviour behind gambling is difficult because behaviour is complex as a whole. One behavioural explanation is a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out): a gambler sees friends or family buying a ticket for a big prize or sees stories in the news about winners and thinks “what if…” (Ariyabuddhiphongs, 2011). Also, there is a higher chance of a person participating in the lottery if they are around family who gamble, especially in the same lottery (Ariyabuddhiphongs, 2011; Splevins et al., 2010).

Theories and models behind gambling[edit | edit source]

The act of gambling is unique to every individual that partakes in the act and therefore the impact it has on each individual is different as well. However, scientific, and psychological theories and models have been developed that can be used to try to explain the motivational and emotional impacts gambling and winning a lottery has on a person.

Motivational[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. David McClelland’s Human Motivation Theory.

While the motivational impact of “winning the lottery” is obvious, there have been theories and models proposed to help explain the motivation to gamble. In the early 1940s, American psychologist Abraham Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs which identified the basic needs of human beings which included physiological needs, safety needs, the need for belonging, self-esteem, and “self-actualisation” (see Figure 2) (Wahba & Bridwell, 1976). Later, American psychologist David McClelland built on this work and identified three motivators of individuals: a need for achievement, a need for affiliation, and a need for power (Kusyszyn, 1984). McClelland’s Human Motivation Theory. also known as Three Needs Theory, Acquired Needs Theory, Motivational Needs Theory, and Learned Needs Theory (see figure 3), identified that achievement-motivated people have a need for a ‘balanced challenge’ (McClelland, 1965). He contrasts achievement-motivated people with gamblers because these individuals took some care to measure and test distances to produce an ideal challenge; one that is not too easy, and not impossible. Participating in a lottery allows a person to have a goal to winning yet having the challenge of leaving it to pure luck.

Figure 3. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Another explanation for why people gamble on a lottery is that of prospect theory by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. This behaviour-based theory uses the term ‘prospect’ to refer to the predictable results of a lottery yet can be applied to the prediction of other behaviours and decisions (Tversky & Kahneman, 1992). The theory describes how people choose between different options (or prospects) and how they estimate the likelihood of each of these options and this estimate often times, being biases or in an incorrect way. This process is called loss aversion; the natural tendency is for “losses to loom larger than gains” when people evaluate risky choices (Tversky & Kahneman, 1992). Those who gamble seem to not have this natural tendency and sometimes reverse it completely (Levy, 1992).

Emotional[edit | edit source]

The emotional impact of winning a lottery is different for everyone because there are many factors that contribute to how a person feels before, during and after. Models and theories such as Ira Roseman's theory of appraisal have been developed to try to make sense of how an event such as winning the lottery affects the emotions (Kusyszyn, 1984). This theory focuses on how emotions come from an interaction of components in the situation such as whether it fits one’s goals, so if winning the lottery is seen as inconsistent, the win will elicit negative emotions such as anger and regret. Another component considers who is responsible for the situation occurring, so if the winner accounts the win to themselves, they feel pride but if it is accounted to absolute chance, a feeling unworthiness may arise.

Positive impacts[edit | edit source]

Many people assume that lottery winners will spend all their winnings and end up back where they started. Although winners who go bankrupt make headlines in the news, most lottery winners do not spend lavishly. This myth is surrounded in negative assumptions however research has shown that there are many positive outcomes from winning a lottery (Ariyabuddhiphongs, 2011). Obviously, it can make life easier such as paying off debts, purchasing something special or helping family and friends, but winning has a wide range of effects on a person’s motivations and emotions.

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Case study: What a N.J. family is doing with $429 million lottery jackpot: ‘Praying’ it forward

Pearlie Mae Smith and her seven adult children won a $429.6 million Powerball Jackpot in 2016. They promised to give 10 percent of their winnings to their church, take vacations and help others.

They paid off mortgages and student loans, took vacations and splurged a little on new houses. They shared the winnings with their large extended family. Most who were not already retired kept working. So far, a family foundation has given away about $1 million and individual family members another $16 million.

"They've literally been a textbook case of what to do," said Personal Finance Adviser Lynnette Khalfani-Cox. "They're demonstrating the power of what money can do in a very positive way."

Source: Burney, M. (2018, Sep 28). What a N.J. family is doing with $429 million lottery jackpot: ‘Praying’ it forward, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Motivational[edit | edit source]

Despite many winners believing that they will quit their job if they win a large prize, especially money, many winners choose to continue work. To work or not to work after a lottery win is a big focus research topic and from this area of research, lottery winners have been found to be well adjusted, secure, and generally happy (Kaplan 1987). Research also showed that demographically, winners come from various education and employment backgrounds and those who earn higher incomes than the general population are more likely to continue work regardless of the amount that they win (Kaplan 1987). It must be noted that the winners’ tendency to continue working depended on their social desirability (Snir and Harpaz 2002), the extent to which work was central to their life, and the amount they won (Arvey et al. 2004). A 2005 survey of Swedish lottery winners also suggested that winning a large amount of money did not undermine the winners’ willingness to continue working (Furaker and Hedenus 2009). Winners did not increase the amount of money they spent on lotteries after winning, and rarely felt motivated to engage in other forms of gambling (Kaplan 1988).

Emotional[edit | edit source]

Winning stimulates dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, all chemicals that make a person feel good. Many would say that winning does not matter to them but something deep inside the mind would suggest otherwise. Society has taught humans that winning is the goal and hence created this urge to win, even when there is a small chance of actually reaching this goal (Eadington, 1976). Natural selection has built a brain that rewards a person with good feelings when they win. These good feelings can come from winning the lottery; a British study of people who collected medium-sized lottery wins (of between £1,000 and £120,000) found that winning money may actually made people happy – or at least happier than they were before the win (Gardner & Oswald, 2007). The study also found that when compared to people who did not win any money, those who did showed a significantly better psychological health two years after the initial win. Another study of regular lottery gamblers whose betting before and after winning the lottery was modest found their experiences with winning were largely positive and their life quality was either stable or had improved (Eckblad & Von Der Lippe, 1994).

Negative impacts[edit | edit source]

A common view of lottery winners is that they are predominantly poor and from the working class so if they become millionaires, they will quit their jobs and become large spenders resulting in losing all their money (Kaplan, 1987). This view is well known because the cases where winners lose everything, and their life goes downhill are the stories that attract attention in the news and media. Studies on the post-winning side effects on a person’s psyche have shown this can happens.

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Case study: William 'Bud' Post III; Unhappy Lottery Winner

William "Bud" Post III won $16.2 million in a Pennsylvania lottery in 1988. His winnings brought him debt, despair and heartache, causing the kind of trouble often recounted in country-western songs. "Everybody dreams of winning money, but nobody realizes the nightmares that come out of the woodwork, or the problems," Mr Post said in 1993, five years after winning the Pennsylvania lottery. "I was much happier when I was broke," he moaned. His problems included a brother who tried to hire a contract murderer to kill him and his sixth wife; a landlady who forced him to give her one-third of the jackpot; and a conviction on an assault charge, after Mr Post fired a shotgun at a debt collector at his deteriorating dream house. He went bankrupt, came out of it with $1 million free and clear and spent most of that windfall, too. Mr Post died of respiratory failure on 15 January 2006 at a Pittsburgh area hospital, aged 66.

Source: Sullivan, P. (2006, Jan 20). William 'Bud' Post III; Unhappy Lottery Winner, Washington Post William 'Bud' Post III; Unhappy Lottery Winner (

Motivational[edit | edit source]

A person who gambles on a lottery does so with the belief that they will win; if not, then what is the point of leaving something just to luck? Many regular gamblers on money-based lotteries say that their “numbers will appear one day” and that’s why despite having a very low chance of actually winning big, they decide to risk their money to do so (Kahneman & Tversky, 1982). This forms a state of cognitive dissonance, a feeling of mental discomfort because of one’s conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or behaviours (Festinger, 1962). This is demonstrated when a person gambles with the attitude “this is earned money, I can do what I want”, yet their belief is that “I probably won’t win because it is such a low chance”.

This conflicting state can also take place when the person wins. Earned income is seen as money which one deserves, while lottery income is viewed differently. An individual may not think immediately that they are ‘deserving’ of this money (Rosenfeld et al., 1986; Winkelmann et al., 2011). Gradually the individual might persuade themselves that they are in fact deserving of the money because they won “fair and square". This erosion of the dissonance could happen slowly, requiring a large amount of effort and investment of psychological resources resulting in mental strain (Winkelmann et al., 2011).

Emotional[edit | edit source]

There are both happy and sad stories of people who won the lottery. One study compared two groups, a control group which did not win a lottery and an experimental group who did win and found the lottery winners no different from the control group in the rating of their happiness (Brickman et al. 1978). Another study found many lottery winners enjoy celebration after the initial win yet return to their lives as if they had not just experienced a joyous occasion (Arvey et al., 2004). This return to a steady baseline in life from the sudden surge of happiness is a phenomenon known as the ‘hedonic treadmill’ or sometimes also referred as the hedonic adaption. This survival capability is part of the human ability to continuously adjust to ever-changing circumstances (Mancini et al., 2011). In more extreme cases, some lottery winners suffer severe mental health problems after winning. A study in Germany found some of the winners who won the largest prizes were hospitalised for depression (Nisslé & Bschor, 2002). Some winners feel an emotional pain via the loss of close family and friends due to greed and people trying to get money from the winner  (Apouey & Clark, 2015). Experiencing a win can be both a positive and a negative experience.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

A lottery is a game of luck that involves drawing random numbers for a prize which could range from material objects such as money or vouchers to social awards such as a place on a team. Studies about the demographics of lottery gamblers show that individuals with lower SES are more likely to buy lottery tickets. Psychological reasons for gambling include intention and the thrilling sensation, and behavioural reasons include a sense of FOMO. Motivational theories such as the prospect theory outline how gamblers refuse to acknowledge that losses should appear greater than gain therefore view the lottery as worthwhile. Emotional theories such as the appraisal theory of emotion suggest lottery winners see gambling in a positive light through their evaluation of factor in life. While some lottery winners received positive impacts such maintaining a strong motivation to work and a range of up-lifting emotion, others suffered from a lack of motivation to work and a state of cognitive dissonance due to conflicting thoughts and behaviours. Sometimes the impact of winning were negative to the point of losing of friends and family.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Apouey, B., & Clark, A. E. (2015). Winning big but feeling no better? The effect of lottery prizes on physical and mental health. Health economics, 24(5), 516-538.

Ariyabuddhiphongs, V. (2011). Lottery gambling: A review. Journal of Gambling Studies, 27(1), 15-33.

Arvey, R. D., Harpaz, I., & Liao, H. (2004). Work centrality and post-award work behavior of lottery winners. The Journal of Psychology, 138(5), 404-420.

Blalock, G., Just, D. R., & Simon, D. H. (2007). Hitting the jackpot or hitting the skids: Entertainment, poverty, and the demand for state lotteries. American Journal of Economics Sociology, 66(3), 545-570.

Cook, M., McHenry, R., & Leigh, V. (1998). Personality and the national lottery. Personality Individual Differences, 25(1), 49-55.

Eadington, W. R. (1976). Gambling and society: Interdisciplinary studies on the subject of gambling. Charles C. Thomas.

Eckblad, G. F., & Von Der Lippe, A. L. (1994). Norwegian lottery winners: Cautious realists. Journal of Gambling Studies, 10(4), 305-322.

Festinger, L. (1962). Cognitive dissonance. Scientific American, 207(4), 93-106.

Gardner, J., & Oswald, A. J. (2007). Money and mental wellbeing: A longitudinal study of medium-sized lottery wins. Journal of health economics, 26(1), 49-60.

George, B. (2002). The relationship between lottery ticket and scratch‐card buying behaviour, personality and other compulsive behaviours. Journal of Consumer Behaviour: An International Research Review, 2(1), 7-22.

Guryan, J., & Kearney, M. S. (2008). Gambling at lucky stores: Empirical evidence from state lottery sales. American Economic Review, 98(1), 458-473.

Haisley, E., Mostafa, R., & Loewenstein, G. (2008). Subjective relative income and lottery ticket purchases. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 21(3), 283-295.

Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1982). The psychology of preferences. Scientific American, 246(1), 160-173.

Kaplan, H. R. (1987). Lottery winners: The myth and reality. Journal of gambling behavior, 3(3), 168-178.

Kusyszyn, I. (1984). The psychology of gambling. The Annals of the American Academy of Political Social Science, 474(1), 133-145.

Levy, J. S. (1992). An introduction to prospect theory. Political psychology, 171-186.

Mancini, A. D., Bonanno, G. A., & Clark, A. E. (2011). Stepping off the hedonic treadmill. Journal of Individual Differences.

McClelland, D. C. (1965). Toward a theory of motive acquisition. American Psychologist, 20(5), 321.

Nisslé, S., & Bschor, T. (2002). Winning the jackpot and depression: Money cannot buy happiness. International journal of psychiatry in clinical practice, 6(3), 183-186.

Nyman, J. A. (2004). A theory of demand for gambles. University of Minnesota Economics Working Paper(322).

Rosenfeld, P., Kennedy, J. G., & Giacalone, R. A. (1986). Decision making: A demonstration of the postdecision dissonance effect. The Journal of social psychology, 126(5), 663-665.

Splevins, K., Mireskandari, S., Clayton, K., & Blaszczynski, A. (2010). Prevalence of adolescent problem gambling, related harms and help-seeking behaviours among an Australian population. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26(2), 189-204.

Sprott, D. E., Brumbaugh, A. M., & Miyazaki, A. D. (2001). Motivation and ability as predictors of play behavior in state‐sponsored lotteries: An empirical assessment of psychological control. Psychology Marketing, 18(9), 973-983.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1992). Advances in prospect theory: Cumulative representation of uncertainty. Journal of Risk uncertainty, 5(4), 297-323.

Wahba, M. A., & Bridwell, L. G. (1976). Maslow reconsidered: A review of research on the need hierarchy theory. Organizational behavior human performance, 15(2), 212-240.

Walker, G. J., Courneya, K. S., & Deng, J. (2006). Ethnicity, gender, and the theory of planned behavior: The case of playing the lottery. Journal of Leisure Research, 38(2), 224-248.

Winkelmann, R., Oswald, A. J., & Powdthavee, N. (2011). What happens to people after winning the lottery. European Economic Association & Econometric Society Parallel Meetings,

Wolfson, S., & Briggs, P. (2002). Locked into gambling: Anticipatory regret as a motivator for playing the National Lottery. Journal of Gambling Studies, 18(1), 1-17.

Zeelenberg, M., & Pieters, R. (2004). Consequences of regret aversion in real life: The case of the Dutch postcode lottery. Organizational behavior human decision processes, 93(2), 155-168.

External links[edit | edit source]

8 Lottery Winner Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Buy a Ticket (Article)

Lottery Curse Victims: 7 People Who Won Big & Lost Everything (Article)

Michael Norton: How to buy happiness (TED Talk)

Melissa Dhal: A classic psychology study on why winning the lottery won’t make you happier (SBS News article)

What Happened to Lottery Winners Who Won? (YouTube video)