The Perils of Betting to Win: Aspiration and Survival in Jeopardy! Tournament of the Champions (revision of Discussion Paper #331)

Elizabeth Boyle and Zur Shapira

Behavior in competitive situations requires decision makers to evaluate their own as well as their competitors' positions. Using data from a realistic competitive risk-taking setting, Jeopardy's Tournament of Champions (TOC), we test whether players choose the strategic best response when making their betting decisions. Analyses show that the percentage of players choosing the strategic best response is very low, a surprising finding because the TOC is contested by the best and most experienced players of the game. We conjecture that performance aspiration and survival targets that guide risk-taking behavior in competitive situations may lead players to select inferior competitive strategies.

March, 2006
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