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Psychological Science 26, 6 (2015) 701-708
Common intuition and research suggest that winning is more motivating than losing. However, we propose that just failing to obtain a reward (i.e., nearly winning it) in one task leads to broader, positive motivational effects on subsequent unrelated tasks relative to clearly losing or actually obtaining the reward. We manipulated a near-win experience using a game app in Experiments 1 through 3 and a lottery in Experiment 4. Our findings showed that nearly winning in one task subsequently led participants to walk faster to get to a chocolate bar (Experiment 1), salivate more for money (Experiment 2), and increase their effort to earn money in a card-sorting task (Experiment 3). A field study (Experiment 4) demonstrated that nearly winning led people to subsequently spend more money on desirable consumer products. Finally, our findings showed that when the activated motivational state was dampened in an intervening task, the nearly-winning effect was attenuated.