The appeal of game shows

By TRINA PINEDA
PSYCHOLOGY@WORK

TELEVISION games are very popular here in the Philippines. Many contestants view it as a way to win easy money. They go on the game show, rely on their stock knowledge, give it their best guess, and figure they haven’t got anything to lose.

Well, maybe just a bit of pride and face value, if they do something embarrassing like missing the answer to a very simple question or tripping on the stage. But for most, it is a chance to be a star for at least five short minutes on national television, meet some hosts and actors, and get a chance to win a million pesos.

Given these, one would surely say “why not?” It’s all part of the appeal of being in the game.

People from all over the country want to try their luck to get a slot on the show as evidenced by the tragedy of Wowowee a few years ago where crowds pushed and shoved their way into the studio in hopes of being on the show. (This happens in other places as well, like in the recent auditions of America’s Next Top Model.)

But the reality is, just getting picked to be on the show is quite a long process. In some cases there is a long line and then an interview that serves as a screening process, in others it is a game of chance thru texting in answers. And then, only a lucky few are allowed to actually be on the show.

But then again, what did you lose except for a few hours? And those few hours, if spent at home, might not have been productive hours anyway. Why do Filipinos from all walks of life seem to want to take their chance at winning a million pesos?

Well, one will prefer to take this opportunity, call it a gamble, over what is a sure loss – gaining nothing by staying home and answering along (unless of course you are the home partner).

As the game progresses and your money starts to add up, suddenly your boldness at answering the questions begin to lessen. You think over your responses more carefully and your response time increases. You begin to dread the question “Are you sure?” This is because the status quo has changed. You feel that you already have that money. It is at your fingertips; you can almost taste it. It is yours. And from this point on, mistakes will mean a loss. And when the host starts to ask if you will proceed or you will just take what you have already, the uncertainty swells.

Now you start to feel the inverse of what was mentioned above. Now, the gains appear to be smaller and smaller especially compared to what you have already gained, from basically zero to let’s say P200,000. Another 50,000 ceases to be as much as the first 50,000 gained. And so to lose the 200,000 as compared to the gain of another 50,000 would be an easy decision. Why risk it? Be safe. Be sure of the gain.

To make up for this, gains are usually bigger also in gap as the game progresses, making it harder for the contestant to decide whether the risk is worth it or not. This is what has us all hooked to viewing these game shows. We want to know which way these contestants will decide. After which, we will make our own judgments–whether they had made a wise choice or a foolish decision.

In today’s world, it is good to have a balance between being optimistic, thinking that things will turn out well for us, and being realistic, knowing what the real score is.

To quote Daniel Kahneman, a psychology professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs who won the Nobel Prize in economics last 2002, “It’s a wonderful thing to be optimistic. It keeps you healthy and it keeps you resilient. But I personally would not want my financial adviser to be optimistic; I’d like him to be as realistic as possible. There are contexts where optimism helps. Generally where it helps is in executing plans. It keeps you on track. It gives you energy to overcome obstacles…. When you are making a decision whether or not to go for something, my guess is that knowing the odds won’t hurt you, if you’re brave. But when you are executing, not to be asking yourself at every moment in time whether you will succeed or not is certainly a good thing…. In many cases, what looks like risk-taking is not courage at all, it’s just unrealistic optimism. Courage is willingness to take the risk once you know the odds. Optimistic overconfidence means you are taking the risk because you don’t know the odds. It’s a big difference.”

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