neuronAccording to a new study published in Neuron, almost winning at gambling excites the same areas of the brain as winning, so long as any sort of player action was involved (even if the action was not related to the outcome). That’s why a slot machine that gives two cherries and a banana (almost!) will have people pumping more quarters than one in which people lose dramatically.

The lead author says:

On games where there is some skill involved, like target practice, it makes sense to pay attention to near-misses. However, on gambling games where the wins are random, like slot machines or roulette, near-misses do not signal your future success. Importantly, our volunteers in this study were not regular or problem gamblers, and so these findings suggest that the brain may naturally respond to near-misses in this way.

Makes sense to me. The natural reaction to “almost” is “just a little more”. A person thinks that just a little more effort on his or her part will do it, even if the effort isn’t related. And even if the “near miss” is built into the system.

Game designers: use this information wisely.