Thrill of victory: Success among many feels better

June 19, 2013
Thrill of victory: Success among many feels better

(Medical Xpress)—Success feels good, but it is better when people win in big groups—even if the chance of success is the same, a new University of Michigan report indicates.

Researchers found that people feel happier and more satisfied if their accomplishment is against competitors in larger groups than identical success among smaller groups.

"Success among larger is associated with more positive because people perceive the performance as more indicative of real ," said Ed O'Brien, the study's lead author and a U-M doctoral student in .

In other words, the win against many competitors represents their "true" abilities, not an outcome that might be described as a "fluke" with fewer individuals seeking , O'Brien said.

O'Brien and Linda Hagen, a doctoral student in marketing at U-M's Ross School of Business, conducted five studies to understand people's reaction to victories depending on the number of competitors in different scenarios, holding constant the chance of success.

In one experiment, participants read about a runner who placed in the top 10 percent of a with few (20) or many (20,000) competitors, and estimated how happy he felt. They also rated how prestigious they thought the race was. The results indicated that participants thought the runner would be happier placing among the top 10 percent in a race with many , as well as consider it a prestigious race compared with the smaller event.

Using the same race example, another experiment asked participants to rate what they thought the runner would infer about his true running abilities after the victory and winning future races. The participants thought the runner's victory against many people was significantly representative of his real running abilities and future success than the same win versus fewer people.

"These findings suggest people have an intuitive understanding of what's called the law of large numbers," Hagen said. "They realize that large competitive pools contain a wider, better range of talent. Winning in large competitions thus seems like a more definitive victory, even though chance of success doesn't actually change—and that provides the emotional boost."

The findings appear in the current issue of Emotion.

Explore further: Experiences are better when we know they're about to end

More information:

Related Stories

Recommended for you

First language wires brain for later language-learning

December 1, 2015

You may believe that you have forgotten the Chinese you spoke as a child, but your brain hasn't. Moreover, that "forgotten" first language may well influence what goes on in your brain when you speak English or French today.

Anxiety can kill your social status

December 1, 2015

Neuroscientists at EPFL identify a brain region that links anxious temperament to low social status. The researchers were able to tweak social hierarchy in animals by using vitamin B3.

Watching eyes prevent littering

December 1, 2015

People are less likely to drop litter if it has printed eyes on it, researchers at Newcastle University, UK, have found. An image of watching eyes reduced the odds of littering by around two thirds.

How can I tell if she's lying?

November 27, 2015

Sarcasm, white lies and teasing can be difficult to identify for those with certain disorders – new video inventory developed at McGill may help


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.