The Winner Effect Keeps Winners Winning

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Some people have all the luck, don’t you think?

For some reason, it just seems as if the same people keeping winning, not matter what they do. One win leads to another and another…basically forever.

Why is that?

This kind of constant achievement may be due to a phenomenon called the winner effect.

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Consider animals in the wild. Often times, one animal wins all the fights and is therefore dominant – but this may not be simply because they are better at fighting.

Scientists have figured out that winning once is sufficient enough to increase chances of winning again. The theory was that winning boosts testosterone, which increases aggression in animals. Conversely, losing increases cortisol which leads animals to fear taking risks.

A team led by Zhejiang University’s Hailan Hu dove deeper into what makes a winner with a study published in Science in 2017. Hu suspected that the real cause of the winner effect was a brain cell cluster called the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, or dmPFC. The dmPFC regulates persistence.

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In their experiment, two male mice were put into a tube facing each other. After one mouse overcame the other by chasing him or shoving him aside to pass through the tube, the scientists took the loser and stimulated his dmPFC with a light. When put back into the tube with the winners, 80 to 90 percent of the loser mice won the subsequent face-off against their rival.

The next day, the experiment was repeated but without the brain stimulation. The mouse that won the first conflict continued to win. The losers kept losing.

Another experiment involving stimulating the connection between the thalamus, which is a sensory signal relay in the brain, and the dmPFC, had the same outcome.

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These results mean that the theory about increased testosterone in winners is probably invalid.

But – and this is a big caveat – something that occurs in animals won’t necessarily explain human behavior.

Regardless of the cause, the winner effect definitely seems to exist in humans. In his book “The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: How Risk Taking Transforms Us, Body and Mind,” author John Coates references a study of tennis players. Researchers found that the winner of the first set had a 60 percent chance of winning the second set. When winning the game depends on winning two out of three sets, that’s golden.

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So, what does all this mean for the winners and the losers in the world?

This may not be saying much, but losing doesn’t do much for you. Winning is better, way better, for crushing your future challenges and meeting your goals.