Gustavo Ballvé on June 29th, 2011
Corporate Strategy, Food for thought, Home, Mental models, Science

Interesting preliminary finding, as reported by Scientific American, by researchers looking at 18,000 professional basketball games: ending the first half losing by one point actually increases a team’s chance of winning the game. If a team was winning by 4 points at halftime, the chance of winning the full game was 70%. If the advantage was 6 points, the chance of winning jumped to 80%. However, when the margin was 1 point then the team had a better chance of losing… The study seems well done but, of course, take it with a grain of salt before applying it to motivational “tools” inside your company.

Back to the study, whose abstract can be found here: they also looked at >45,000 NCAA (US college-level basketball) games and found the same effect, albeit smaller.

The hypotheses to explain these findings were loss aversion and diminishing sensitivity: that is, losing by 1 point made teams seek to reverse the situation and losing by a “lot” made teams care less or subjectively try less hard as those losing by 1 point, tied or winning. The researchers then devised a “game” to test subjects’ motivation in similar situations and they did find that those losing by little increased their efforts.

Even more interesting is the finding that people with higher confidence in themselves increased their efforts more than those with less confidence. In the article’s own words: “Being slightly behind won’t increase motivation if you think you’re not capable of turning things around. And, similarly, a large deficit might also be motivating if you think you’ve got what it takes to stage a glorious comeback.”

Motivation isn’t an easy issue – not even as a study field – so it’s only natural that it seems so hard to instill it in oneself and/or others. When you mix the issue with confidence, it’s hard to know what comes first – this study seems to say that confidence is the fertile ground for motivation.

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