Why the Lotto Buzz? Humans are Wired for Hope

But when the numbers are drawn, reality can be hard

By Angie Crouch and Bill French
|  Thursday, Mar 29, 2012  |  Updated 11:10 AM PDT
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Humans are wired for hope, an LA psychologist says. Which may explain why people were scooping up lotto tickets in preparation for a record Mega Millions drawing. Angie Crouch reports from Santa Monica.

Angie Crouch and David Gregory

Humans are wired for hope, an LA psychologist says. Which may explain why people were scooping up lotto tickets in preparation for a record Mega Millions drawing. Angie Crouch reports from Santa Monica.

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Most serious lotto players have heard the numbers. The odds against winning a mega millions jackpot are close to one in 176 million. And yet that hope of being the "one" is definitely present in the hearts and minds of lotto players.

Take William Landrum, for example.

“This is the winning ticket here. Five-hundred million," said Landrum, clutching his ticket. (That number was boosted to $540 million Thursday by Lottery officials).

Hundreds of thousands of dreamers are snatching up lottery tickets this week, and they all indulge at least a little bit in the fantasy.

“I play the lottery because it’s a dream," Landrum said. "It's a big dream that may come true someday. And if it comes true, wow, it's gonna be beautiful.”

Dr. James Gottfurcht specializes in the psychology of money. He says humans are wired for hope. And the lottery gives them that and more.

“We secrete that adrenaline," Gottfurcht said. "We have neurotransmitters like dopamine and endorphins and also the serotonin. So that goes up and that makes us feel good biologically.”

“I’d buy a big house," said lotto player Yvonne Mikalas. "A big car, everything big.”

“I’m dreaming big time," said Vlady Stoyanova. "I'm gonna take off work, I'm gonna go on vacation.“

Gottfurcht said some people are more vulnerable than others and may set themselves up for an emotional fall when they don't win. But for most players, it's good clean fun with a modest price tag that helps fund some good causes, like education.

“Even though they can enjoy the ride, they need to be prepared," Gottfurcht said. "It's not going to work out for almost all of them.”


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