Tin Can Robot

Why We Keep Playing the Lottery

Why do we keep playing the lottery?

Somebody has to win. But to really understand why hundreds of millions of people play a game they will never win, a game with serious social consequences, you have to suspend logic and consider it through an alternate set of rules—rules written by neuroscientists, social psychologists, and economists. When the odds are so small that they are difficult to conceptualize, the risk we perceive has less to do with outcomes than with how much fear or hope we are feeling when we make a decision, how we “frame” and organize sets of logical facts, and even how we perceive ourselves in relation to others. Once you know the alternate set of rules, plumb the literature, and speak to the experts, the popularity of the lottery suddenly makes a lot more sense. It’s a game where reason and logic are rendered obsolete, and hope and dreams are on sale.