Office pools suck and make people unhappy

i-75fa6f7cebb4145668724f37f5a52b36-steve_icon_medium.jpg I never quite understood the whole NCAA pool thing, or fantasy leagues for that matter. In a non-professional gambling environment the chances of you winning are pretty much chance. You've all heard about the girl picking her teams based on what colors she likes and winning. In any case... there is an interesting study from Naomi Mandel and Stephen M. Nowlis or Arizona State University demonstrating that Office pools make people pretty unhappy. Well except the winner - but there's only one of them (except in my department where there is one for the worst bracket - which I can't even win). Anyway, here's the press release:

Office pools for the NCAA basketball tournament or Oscar contests are fun, right? Not according to the Journal of Consumer Research. A recent study suggests that betting on the outcome actually reduces people's enjoyment of the events. Authors Naomi Mandel and Stephen M. Nowlis (Arizona State University) explore this phenomenon, and why these contests are so common.

"Nobody likes to be wrong. Once a person has committed to a predicted outcome, he's set himself up for the possibility of looking like a fool. In other words, the fear of losing [known as] 'anticipated regret' may actually feel worse than losing itself." Peoples' worry about losing the bet tends to spoil the event for them.

The study was inspired by the researchers' experience of participating in an office pool related to the CBS television show " Survivor." They noticed officemates' increased stress after locking in predictions about the show. They designed a series of experiments where they asked participants to predict or not predict the outcome of game shows and marble games.

How does the unhappiness associated with betting coexist with the growing popularity of office pools and tournament prediction contests? The researchers found that participants expected that betting on events would enhance their viewing experience, though the actual effects were the opposite.

"In a wide range of studies, people have been shown to be poor predictors of their own enjoyment and happiness," write the authors. "Our results imply that a consumer playing roulette might actually enjoy that gamble more if the 'house' rather than the consumer chooses the number to be played."

Win or lose? The authors found it doesn't really matter. "Among those who made predictions, participants who were correct enjoyed the event no more than those who were incorrect," they conclude.

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Dude, you posted a picture from an old NBA game when the article was talking about NCAA pools. Does anyone, aside from really degenerate gamblers, do NBA pools? I'm revoking your man card and ordering you to ride a scooter.

One of my favorites occurred on "Cheers", when all the guys were mad at Diane for winning the football pool every week. When they asked her how she did it she said she used a different system each time. Sam wants to know her take on the Miami-Chicago game. She says, "Chicago, of course." But, says Sam, Miami's offensive line is so good, and Chicago can't defend the pass, etc, etc. How can she possibly think Chicago will win?

She smiles and says, "Oh, c'mon. A dolphin eat a bear?"

I run an office pool website ( where just recently we had several thousand people playing in various private and public American Idol office pools (we also had Survivor, but I don't think the authors of this study played on our site). We did find that participating dropped week over week, but a full 3/5ths continued to enter weekly picks up and including the finale of the show, and there were significantly more participation from those in private office pools than the public pools were no fee was collected. In addition, may pools held finale parties where participants gathered to enjoy the final show and award their pool winners (and some losers). What we find is that a) more people watch the show than would otherwise if an office pool is available to them, and b) people enjoy the pool the longer they have an opportunity to win (or at least win a prize). One mechanism we have found interesting is that several pools awarded a prize for last place--allowing for even those who finish last to have a bit of fun. Again, I may not be able to challenge their findings that people enjoy a show less if they've predicted the outcome, I can say with certainty that people are enjoying playing in the pools--meeting for lunch or at the coffee maker, comparing results, and communicating with one another when they might otherwise not. And we both agree, putting a little money (e.g. $5 or $10) adds to the enjoyment for those participating.