Winner's Blindness

Mon, 17 Feb 2014

I wanted to give a short follow-up to my post a few months ago: How-fair-is-the-game-of-monopoly/.

I watched a thought provoking TED talk the other day, in which the presenter had filmed experiment subjects playing a particularly rigged game of Monopoly, in which one of the players (randomly selected) started with more money, and was allowed multiple turns for each of their 'poorer' opponent's turns.

Over the course of the game, the richer player, who unsurprisingly outperformed, began to change their behaviour, adopting aggressive language and gestures and eating the lion’s share of the provided pretzels.  And on being interviewed after the game, they were far more likely to talk about how their decision making had contributed to the result than to acknowledge any unfairness in the situation.

I’m not at all surprised by this behaviour - I have noticed it often - whether from traders who come up with reasons to justify their success (luck couldn’t have anything to do with it!), men who don’t believe gender disadvantage exists in the workplace (or if it does, it is against men), or those who believe that poverty is largely caused by the poor not working harder.  It is human nature to prefer the stories that comfort us to those that might make us feel a little bit less righteous.

There’s a lesson in this that we should recognise the bias in our view - that our success is more due to chance that we’d like to think.  But I think there’s also a lesson against believing those ahead of us (e.g. politicians, business leaders) are unlike us, that they are extraordinarily greedy, uncaring, and willing to put down others to get ahead.  We’re all human, and only a dice roll away what I might label ‘winner’s blindness’.

For the full video, go to