Cognitive Biases in Playing the Lottery: Estimating the Odds and Choosing the Numbers


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Thomas Holtgraves, Department of Psychological Science, Ball State University, Muncie, IN 47306. We thank Kurt Wise of the Hoosier Lottery for providing us with the data for Experiment 3.


Three experiments were conducted to examine the operation of the representativeness and anchoring and adjustment heuristics in lottery play. Subjects in Experiments 1 and 2 indicated their chances of winning a lottery with an objective probability of 1 in 10. Consistent with the anchoring and adjustment heuristic, subjects (in both experiments) perceived their chances of winning to be greater when the lottery was based on a single event than when it was based on a disjunctive event. Subjects in these two experiments also selected numbers to play in a pick-3 (Experiment 1) or pick-4 (Experiment 2) lottery. Consistent with the representativeness heuristic, subjects in Experiment 2 demonstrated a preference for numbers without repeating digits. This also occurred in Experiment 3 wherein the numbers actually played in the Indiana daily Pick-3 lottery were examined.