CMC’s Piercarlo Valdesolo in Scientific American

“Bet on the Losing Team” Points to New Research

Suggesting that Being an Underdog can

Better A Team’s Chances of Winning

Did the Dallas Mavericks believe in positive thinking when they won their first ever NBA title during the 2011 playoffs against the Miami Heat?

In Scientific American, CMC Assistant Professor of Psychology Piercarlo Valdesolo writes about new researchborrowing from behavioral economicsthat shows how odds of winning can in some cases be reversed. It has to do, he says, with basic psychological principles of motivation. “In other words,” Valdesolo writes, “being behind by a little can actually increase a team’s likelihood of winning.”

The authors of the new research, he says, based their hypothesis on two insights from behavioral economics: loss aversion and diminishing sensitivity. “We don’t like losing, and our efforts have greater marginal impact as we get closer to a goal,” Valdesolo says. “This suggests that teams that are behind should be motivated to catch up, and this motivation to catch up should increase as the discrepancy between scores diminishes.”

To test their theory, the researchers, says Valdeosolo, “turned to the tapes and analyzed all NBA basketball games from 1993 through March 2009 with this simple question in mind: Would teams that are slightly behind at halftime be more likely to win games than teams that are slightly ahead?”

Discover more about their findings in Valdesolo’s piece for Scientific American.