Mega Millions Jackpot Entices More Ticket Purchases

Professor Jane Risen discusses the science behind the lottery drawing.
3:00 | 12/17/13

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Transcript for Mega Millions Jackpot Entices More Ticket Purchases
This is a special group. -- create. He is a -- -- -- ticket. Don't waste your money and -- everybody. It's mine thank you. -- and it went out when and not. The pursuit -- -- hope they do they were educated well plan. Very. First overpayments. And after they had me -- -- family would disappear from everyone. It's a lot of money. And that -- would love to donated. To all the needy people that I can give it to him. Of course keep a little -- myself. -- now. Big dreams with a big bucks on the line Lotto fever sweeping the country everyone thinking they have the lucky ticket and are of course are already planning what they would do with the winnings. Everyone I'm Dan Cutler is ABC -- special report the Mega Millions jackpot now 636. Million dollars is the second highest in history. And it has everybody feeling like well frankly luck is in the -- BC's Marissa Gonzales has been following the latest on the jackpot and joins us now. Marcy big smiles a lot of people have fingers crossed tonight. Absolutely getting ready -- -- so slim of winning just one in 259. Million. But that is not deterring people from the lining up tonight. Get their tickets. The countdown is on for tonight's drawing for what is now the second biggest jackpot in the lottery history. He had to stop -- because I'm going to win the Mega Millions prize jumping yet again today to -- whopping 636. Million dollars just twenty million short of the largest jackpot ever which was split between three winning tickets in march of last year them. Open it's my lucky day. Those lucky tickets for this contest not for sale in Nevada Utah Wyoming Mississippi Alabama Alaska and Hawaii. But in 43 states in the US Virgin Islands it is -- on Mega Millions mania. Next the -- it's estimated eleven million tickets are now being sold every. Al Gore would do I have to lose -- the dollars. Just look at it a dollar buying you rain for the cash payout of more than 341. Million bucks. That really really incredible more than enough for some unforgettable. Christmas gifts to find my parents house -- -- I did I treat more people better things and the chance to do some serious good dislike this winner in the Canadian lottery. I really don't need the money. So you're not keeping even -- cents. He gave all forty million dollars of his winnings to charity. Inspiring others to follow he's generously. They would love to give it. To people who need to haul -- around the where else. -- there would be -- and seats again especially if there's no winner in tonight's drying. The jackpot for Friday would -- to an incredible. 950. Million dollars -- can you imagine. -- your head just explodes at a figure that -- you know I mean we're in the giving season. The people that you've been talking to I mean is there are pretty even mix between those that are going to be a little selfish with the winnings and those that are actually -- do something good be charitable with -- I am stable that I spoke with the say they're gonna do a little bit of both they're thinking of all the people they wanna get. This thing or two in my may be a vacation -- something like that. I you asked me yesterday about my ticket I have proof that I am in it to -- -- and Dan I -- -- giving spirit so keep in mind. -- -- -- You are not gonna get up that easily through okay all right we'll talk we'll talk percentages after a guy got it on tape now -- how does happen. -- this could come back yard -- accurately that. For more -- -- lottery and the frenzy that it creates want to bring -- behavioral scientist -- rise from the Booth school of business -- thanks for being with us today we appreciate it. So -- -- the lottery happens all year round but why -- people just start. Spending money hand over fist but he's just bigger jackpot the -- 3040 million dollars is nothing to sneeze at but the frenzy is not there for those numbers. I think part of it is that you know when it's a -- -- thing. If you got people to really focus on the decision and money you know they might think about. You know taking their chance. Even on -- thirty or forty million dollar prize but something happens when it's the big prize. -- becomes a cultural event -- becomes something that everybody's talking about all the news stories are covering it. And so when you start to no other people who are buying Bennett starts to feel like -- should be an honest you -- and so becomes a very. It becomes something that's part of your day and then it becomes sort of. Irresistible so there's actually take a scientific reasoning behind this why we would behave this way almost like and a group think environment. I don't believe it's you know there's there's a little bit of -- sense -- that almost like -- hurting mentality when you see other people -- you do -- But I think it's more about the fact that the lottery is just not something that most people think about -- it's just not sort of something that -- considering. And then. On these particular occasions once it hit some sort of you know threshold then it's something that everybody's thinking about and when you start imagining it in imagining what you do with the winnings it starts to. Feel almost real or feel possible and so -- -- kind of becomes. Something that compels you to use apply. So -- -- is is also a snowball effect and essentially is what you're saying. I think so yeah I think that. It's -- at a regular day if you offered people the chance and really on any random day you encourage them to think about what it would mean to win and things like that you might get the same sort of behavior. But we don't typically think about it and so on special occasions like. Yes we start to see yes this behavior I mean it's one thing if it's it's self motivated action -- is there any point of peer pressure joining in because -- -- as we just for chatting with Marcy -- them -- -- yesterday -- ticket. Com the site is kind of -- you know was curious and obviously everyone wants to make money in sums to have a sense but at the same time. You don't want industry to -- -- -- gonna ask -- -- -- -- and at that point you wonder maybe doctor. Yeah I think that it's you know it's a little bit of peer pressure. And it's also just this it's -- -- become something that everybody -- -- -- almost. Almost a sense of regret that sort of gets inspired a little bit you know this idea of what what would -- it could have been me and I didn't you know I didn't go for. And so when other people are playing you don't necessarily think about life but when everybody's playing -- you start to feel that seems sort of pressure. What about the holidays today they play a factor. I think probably I mean you know this is so much about that the fantasy. You know imagining this what you -- do. Is part of what sort of makes it feel very likely so are our judgments about how likely it is are influenced by just the fact we're thinking. And I think around the holidays we spend a lot of time thinking about it especially when you know. When people are struggling in order to to -- the things that they want to buy it comes in you know when. And very easy sort of escape to imagine what you could do with all that money and then there's this nice benefit of being able to sort of imagine yourself as the kind of person who would get the things you need for yourself. And also this sort of you can imagine yourself -- the kind of person who would donate a lot of it to charity and feel really good about being that kind of person as well. You you're talking about imagine a July and it and the question becomes then. If the odds are so low one in 259. Million base in the combination of those 75 numbers as the fact that like. Just as a human brain we just we can't comprehend just exactly how slim those chances actually. -- That's exactly right that we have a very difficult time with small numbers that we make a big deal a big difference. Between something that's impossible and something that's possible right so if you go from zero to anything. It feels possible and it feels like it's something that could be real but to distinguish between one and a billion or one -- a million or 100000. Those things don't feel very different if you think about it psychologically they feel pretty much the same to you know it's very very unlikely. But it's still possible and sort of all of those -- get lumped together into the same sort of feeling and so we don't act very differently. When the odds are astronomically against asked vs just not -- -- It would -- explain to me the psychology between those people that have specific numbers that they always play because they feel that they're lucky and those that go and just do the quick -- So I think is so so people who are choosing their their numbers meet their there's been research for a long time so people feel like I have this sort of almost this this control. When they -- there -- numbers and so people when they get to pick their own numbers. Do tend to be a little bit more optimistic often. And in fact they're less likely to want to trade their -- -- if you ask people to exchange their ticket once they get -- the person who is our numbers fuels. Almost more attached to it is less likely to want to give it up. And I think that you'll find you know my my my best guess is that if you had someone who played the lottery every day with the same numbers for example it would be very hard to get them to stop playing because on any given day. You wouldn't -- that you could of one. -- -- turned up at those numbers that you used to play where the big winner and you didn't play them and that's gonna feel the tent like really. Really terrible and so I think once just sort of stuck in a loop of playing the same numbers then it becomes -- really hard to break that. Yeah it's funny we -- watching some of the things that people do as they're sort of good luck charm. Rubbing the side of the machine or whatever it might be that kind of increase their odds but. The fact is is that you've done some studies have shown that people are actually hesitant to -- lottery tickets if they've been a quick pick or numbers depict themselves. Even though the chances of those numbers hitting is the exact same as the other numbers that are -- Yet its rights of people are reluctant to trade their tickets basically after an especially if -- the -- the tactic it's gonna go to somebody else. Right to somebody else is gonna get back to get and you get a new tech. And for some people I think they do you actually really feel like they're taken special their ticket is more likely to win but that's the minority of people. I think other people really wary about the regret so if there if they had a -- and they gave it up -- that take it one that would feel very -- And in my research what we find is that even though most people say that the ticket that they have is not more likely to win. Even though they recognize that it's all equal they say that if they exchange the -- it becomes more likely that went. And again this is back to this idea of imagination. So in the case of exchanging a ticket I imagine someone else with my ticket. That's such a negative terrible thing it captured my imagination in such a way that that -- feels very likely. And so I sort of over estimate the likelihood of that exchange ticket winning and somebody else's hands. And so that makes me. Especially reluctant to trade -- and Jane I have to ask you did you buy a ticket. I -- I did not buy a ticket people do you plan on -- one. I do not though doing the interview and it again it's sort of like I think -- -- -- under rocket wasn't really all that. It didn't feel nearly as encompassing. And -- -- -- of the inner human thinking about it and announce a little bit more on my mind but I have a feeling that I will not. -- -- family like you used to have a -- on the generosity of friends and. And there you go -- -- -- a couple of hours in the fact you do you wanna change your mind Jane -- and thank you so much for Chicago Booth school we certainly appreciate your time inside the studies that you've done. Other psychology behind they would detonate aid and -- to get rich very quickly 636. Million dollars up for grabs the drawing tonight at 11 o'clock eastern time. For now I'm Dan Cutler -- New York with this ABC news digital special report.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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