Why do we make Spite Calls?

carrierevenge-thumb-510x328-50950In the Mental Game of Poker 1 we talk a lot about a type of tilt we call Revenge Tilt. The name is pretty self explanatory, it is the type of tilt inspired by losing to a particular reg that makes you want to get him back. Revenge Tilt, like all types of Tilt, causes you to abandon a proven winning strategy and play too loose and/or aggressively against the player that pissed you off.

We talk in length about why Revenge Tilt happens, what the symptoms look like and how to deal with it. Last week I listened to a fantastic podcast from Freakonomics (A must listen podcast and a must read book of the same name) that provided a deeper evolutionary explanation on why it happens. The episode was all about spite and cited research from Benedikt Herrmann from the University of Nottingham school of Economics.

Most economists believe humans are Homo Economicus, ie. we are hard wired to act in our own self interest. However Herrmann believes we are actually Homo Rivalis. This means instead of being motivated by what would benefit us the most, we are inherently motivated by what we have relative to other people. Keeping up with the Joneses as it were.

The Ultimatum Game

imagesThe podcast cites, amongst others, a study called the Ultimatum Game, where two people are playing a game and are unknown to each other, where the prize is $10. Person A gets to split the $10 however they see fit to share with Person B, then Person B gets to either agree to the split, or choose that both players get nothing. So for example Person A is offered a choice of getting $3 and Person B getting $7, then Person A gets to either agree to the split, or decide that neither of them get paid. What is found in this study is that once the split gets as low as 20% for Person A, rarely do they choose to take it and more often than not they choose that both players get nothing.

I also recently heard of a similar survey where people were asked would they rather earn $50,000 a year and their neighbor earn $25,000, or would they prefer to earn $100,000 a year and their neighbor earn $200,000. In this case nearly half the people surveyed chose the option where they earned the lesser amount, but their neighbor earned less, even though the other option literally doubled their earnings.

Herrmann used research like this to argue why people do spiteful things. In other words why do we sometimes do something that doesn’t benefit us, even possibly harms us, just to harm someone else? One would think that we are hard wired to do whatever it is benefits us and our survival the most, but it appears there is almost as big a drive to make sure our rivals and peers don’t get too big a bite of the pie.

Understanding Revenge Tilt

1010446-1009332_spite_superAlthough I am not entirely sure what I think of the research, in the part because a lot of the evidence is done in stress free lab conditions which don’t really mirror real life, it does provide a fresh insight into the nature of Revenge Tilt. With Revenge Tilt you find yourself making long term unprofitable calls and bluffs because you are desperate to get back at the player you believe has done you wrong. You could argue that this is a (flawed) attempt to get your money back, but I actually think with this particular type of tilt the motivation is much more geared towards making your opponent lose than it is getting your winnings back (The very name ‘Revenge’ implies as much).

Of course in the rare instances where you get lucky you get the win-win situation of winning money and your opponent losing, but more often than not you are harming yourself in an attempt to harm another.

The first step to solving Revenge Tilt, like any other type of tilt, is to understand it. Often Revenge Tilt is caused when you feel like you are not being shown the appropriate amount of respect or you feel you have had something other than just the money taken from you – like confidence, identity or your ability. Maybe this research from Benedikt Herrmann highlights another nuance of Revenge Tilt where we don’t want those around us to be doing better than us, even if it is at our own expense.

Find out about Revenge Tilt and more in The Mental Game of Poker 1 (Free on audio book)


About Barry Carter
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