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Can Losing Lead to Winning?

Author

Listed:
  • Jonah Berger

    () (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104)

  • Devin Pope

    () (Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637)

Abstract

Individuals, groups, and teams who are behind their opponents in competition tend to be more likely to lose. In contrast, we show that through increasing motivation, being slightly behind can actually increase success. Analysis of more than 18,000 professional basketball games illustrates that being slightly behind at halftime leads to a discontinuous increase in winning percentage. Teams behind by a point at halftime, for example, actually win more often than teams ahead by one, or approximately six percentage points more often than expected. This psychological effect is roughly half the size of the proverbial home-team advantage. Analysis of more than 45,000 collegiate basketball games finds consistent, though smaller, results. Experiments corroborate the field data and generalize their findings, providing direct causal evidence that being slightly behind increases effort and casting doubt on alternative explanations for the results. Taken together, these findings illustrate that losing can sometimes lead to winning. This paper was accepted by Peter Wakker, decision analysis.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonah Berger & Devin Pope, 2011. "Can Losing Lead to Winning?," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 57(5), pages 817-827, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:57:y:2011:i:5:p:817-827
    DOI: 10.1287/mnsc.1110.1328
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.1110.1328
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    5. Chaim Fershtman & Uri Gneezy, 2011. "The Tradeoff Between Performance And Quitting In High Power Tournaments," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 318-336, April.
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