Just then, from the corner of your eye, you notice that an attractive woman seems to be interested in your game (and, perhaps, in you). You throw another roll and win again. You're debating whether to quit while you're ahead and cash out, but your concentration is broken by the woman, who has now stepped closer. Smiling at you, she says, "You're really doing great," as she reaches out and touches you gently on your back.
Not only do you decide to keep playing, but you significantly increase your bet. You lose, but she encourages you again—with another touch—and you bet again.
What's really going on here?
Are you simply so caught up trying to impress this woman that you keep betting even though you're in the hole? Perhaps. But according to a study published in the journal Psychological Science, the reason might go even deeper than that.
In the study, participants were tested to see under which conditions they would take risks, such as investing money or making a substantial gamble. Before taking the risk, they were greeted in one of three different ways by a female or male researcher—either with a light touch on the shoulder, a handshake, or no physical contact at all. At the end of the experiment, participants filled out surveys that assessed how secure they had felt.
The researchers found that participants who were touched on the shoulder felt more secure and took bigger risks than those who weren't—but only if they were touched by a woman. The effect was stronger for a touch than for a handshake, but disappeared entirely for participants who were touched by a man.
And now the interesting part: The same finding was found for men and women who were touched by a woman, suggesting that this is not a sexual attraction effect, at least not solely.
The researchers draw a line between this finding and previous research on how a woman's touch affects an infant, making the child feel more secure and comfortable. It's entirely possible that a woman's touch works the same on adults—making them feel more secure and willing to take risks.
Which brings us back to the casino scenario: What do you think are the chances that the woman in question works for the casino and is planted in the crowd to make sure guys like you keep playing?
A lot higher than the chances you'll keep winning. .
David DiSalvo is a science and technology writer working at the intersection of cognition and culture.
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