Implicit Valuation of the Near-Miss is Dependent on Outcome Context Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Gambling studies have described a "near-miss effect" wherein the experience of almost winning increases gambling persistence. The near-miss has been proposed to inflate the value of preceding actions through its perceptual similarity to wins. We demonstrate here, however, that it acts as a conditioned stimulus to positively or negatively influence valuation, dependent on reward expectation and cognitive engagement. When subjects are asked to choose between two simulated slot machines, near-misses increase valuation of machines with a low payout rate, whereas they decrease valuation of high payout machines. This contextual effect impairs decisions and persists regardless of manipulations to outcome feedback or financial incentive provided for good performance. It is consistent with proposals that near-misses cause frustration when wins are expected, and we propose that it increases choice stochasticity and overrides avoidance of low-valued options. Intriguingly, the near-miss effect disappears when subjects are required to explicitly value machines by placing bets, rather than choosing between them. We propose that this task increases cognitive engagement and recruits participation of brain regions involved in cognitive processing, causing inhibition of otherwise dominant systems of decision-making. Our results reveal that only implicit, rather than explicit strategies of decision-making are affected by near-misses, and that the brain can fluidly shift between these strategies according to task demands.


  • Banks, Parker J
  • Tata, Matthew S
  • Bennett, Patrick J
  • Sekuler, Allison
  • Gruber, Aaron J

publication date

  • March 2018