Research Article: The Monty Hall problem revisited: Autonomic arousal in an inverted version of the game

Date Published: March 26, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Eduardo Massad, Paulo Cesar Costa dos Santos, Armando Freitas da Rocha, Edward J. N. Stupple, Eldad Yechiam.


The asymmetry of autonomic arousal for potential losses and gains was assessed by the galvanic skin response (GSR) of participants playing classic and inverted versions of the Monty Hall problem (MHP). In both versions, the prize remained the same (a pen valued at £10 for the right answer), but in the modified version, prizes were received prior to choosing the door. Both experimental groups showed increased levels of GSR while completing the task, demonstrating increased autonomic arousal during the game. However, a robust difference in GSR was detected between classic and inverted versions of the MHP, thus demonstrating the differing autonomic arousal involved in deciding between the alternatives presented by the game. Participants experienced a stronger autonomic response when they could lose the prize than when they could win the prize. This experiment presents the first demonstration of this effect on the MHP. The stronger autonomic arousal for the inverted task may indicate a stronger emotional reaction and/or greater attentional focus than for the standard version of the task. These data demonstrate that potential losses increase arousal in more complex tasks than is typically shown.

Partial Text

A classic finding in psychology is that participants experience asymmetries in the intensity of their good and bad experiences across a wide range of domains, including personal relationships, emotions, rewards and punishments, and electrophysiological reactions [1]. Increased intensity for negative experiences has been suggested to extend to subjective responses to gains and losses [1, 2].More specifically, loss aversion is the phenomenon whereby changes that result in losses loom larger psychologically than do those that result in gains [2]. This bias regarding negative outcomes may also play a role in status-quo bias; that is, people tend to prefer the status quo because the potential for losses due to a change are more salient than the potential benefits. Several studies have also suggested that the important differences between values (prices) set by buyers and sellers, a finding called the “endowment effect” [2, 3], is due to loss aversion. The endowment effect has been typically explained by loss aversion in that sellers anticipate a potential loss of the object they own and compensate by inflating the price of the object due to loss aversion. Standard accounts of loss aversion show that losses are weighed more heavily than gains. However, this view has been challenged due to inconsistent findings, and loss aversion effects have not been generalized across all paradigms [4]. The attentional-based model of losses is an alternative account that proposes that increased attention and potentially improved performance occur when a task involves possible losses [4, 5]. Consistent with both loss aversion and the attentional-based model, participants have shown greater physiological arousal when experiencing negative outcomes. However, this increased arousal is not always accompanied by behavioral loss aversion, a finding that the attentional-based model is better equipped to explain.

Crude data on SC of each participant are shown in S1, S2 and S3 Tables, with the results of the Classic, Inverted and Normalized Means experiments respectively.

The results of this study reveal reliably higher levels of GSR for participants playing an inverse version of the MHP compared with the classic version. The velocity to maximum GSR, AUC and rise time were significantly different, with maximum GSR reached more quickly in the inverted version of the game. This finding supports the hypothesis that a loss-based or negative version of the task would produce greater autonomic arousal than the standard version of the task.




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