The Attraction of Uncertainty
Get up at 7am.
Check your cell for new emails or Facebook messages. Eat breakfast, brush your teeth, get dressed, go to work.
Work on the same project you did yesterday. And the day before. Grab some burnt coffee from the office kitchen.
All of it couldn’t be more predictable.
There's no doubt human beings, at least in the modern industrialized age, are justified in our obsession with uncertainty. An addiction to uncertainty, even.
Here’s a look at just a few ways we seek out uncertainty in our lives – not the least of which is our urge to gamble.
Uncertainty At Work
Probably the most common line you hear from people who truly love their job is “I never know what to expect at work tomorrow. There’s no such thing as a typical day. Every day is different.”
Before you start your “official” career you never fully comprehend how powerful that variety can be.
Indeed, in most jobs, there’s a considerable amount of repetitive tasks. But one that offers more variation and regular exposure to uncertainty is undeniably appealing in comparison.
Uncertainty In Relationships
In a joint study done by the University of Virginia and Harvard University researchers proved that women are more attracted to men when they’re not sure if the men like them.
Female participants were shown pictures of men in three groups described to them as
- 1) those who said they liked the participant’s picture
- 2) those who said they didn’t like the participant’s picture
- 3) a 50-50 mix of 1) and 2)
The participating women were then asked to rate their interest level for the men based on their pictures. The results revealed that group 3) got the most votes.
We like the thrill of the chase. And ultimately people look for characteristics in partners they don’t have themselves.
Uncertainty in Hobbies
Extreme sports have a high level of inherent danger. Speed. Height. A high level of physical exertion. Specialized and highly fickle equipment.
Many thrill seekers look to go where no one else has been before or do what no one else has done – often with the very real possibility of severe injury or death.
This is a clear sign of the human urge to take chances with a high level of uncertainty.
While extreme activities are seen as extreme due to a select demographic that chooses to partake in them, in reality the risk of dying in a number of mundane ways - in traffic or on a motorcycle for example - is far greater than the risk of dying solo free climbing or BASE jumping.
Activities involving uncertainty do not necessarily bring more harm than “logical or rational” behaviors – proving the uncertainty is the draw as much as the potential consequences.
Uncertainty in Gambling
The existence of gambling (and more recently casinos) has catered to our need for uncertainty for, well, millenia.
As American actor Paul Newman once said, “A dollar won is twice as sweet as a dollar earned.”
Uncertainty itself is sweet, but to win in an uncertain situation is even sweeter.
Examples from the lottery to office NCAA pools abound, but there are few more perfect examples than a man from London who sold his house and everything else he owned, brought $135,000 to Las Vegas and bet every penny on red on one spin of the roulette wheel.
He came home with $270,000, but that’s far from the main reason for his uncertain venture.
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