Skip to main content

The psychology of the near miss


Near misses are widely believed to encourage future play, even in games of chance where the probability of winning remains constant from trial to trial. Some commercial gambling systems, particularly instant lotteries and slot machines, are contrived to ensure a higher frequency of near misses than would be expected by chance alone. Theoretical interpretations and relevant experiments are examined. A distinction is drawn between possible short-term and longer-term effects of manipulating the rate of occurrence of near misses.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Amsel, A. (1958). The role of frustrative nonreward in noncontinuous reward situations.Psychological Bulletin, 55 102–119.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Amsel, A. (1968). Secondary reinforcement and frustration.Psychological Bulletin, 69 278.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bergler, E. (1958).The Psychology of Gambling London: Hanison.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Kahneman, D. & Tversky, A. (1982). The Psychology of Preferences.Scientific American, January, 136–142.

  5. Loftus, G. R. and Loftus, E. K. (1983)Mind at Play New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Langer, E.J. (1975). The illusion of control.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32 311–328.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Mowrer, O.H. (1960).Learning Theory and Behavior. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Royal Commission (1978).Report of the Royal Commission on Gambling. Command 7200. London: H.M.S.O.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Scarne, J. (1975).Scarne's New Complete Guide to Gambling. London: Constable.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Skinner, B.F. (1953).Science and Human Behavior. New York: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Smith, S. & Razzell, P. (1975).The Pools Winners. London: Caliban Books.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Strickland, L.H. & Grote, F.W. (1967). Temporal presentation of winning symbols and slot machine playing.Journal of Experimental Psychology, 74 10–13.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Additional information

The first four experiments reported in the text were carried out by Amanda Shattock, supported by a Grant from the Social Science Research Council.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Reid, R.L. The psychology of the near miss. J Gambling Stud 2, 32–39 (1986).

Download citation


  • Theoretical Interpretation
  • Slot Machine
  • Relevant Experiment
  • Commercial Gambling
  • Future Play