Motivated to Gain: Awareness of an Impending Ending and the Ending Effect

Front Psychol. 2019 Jan 17;9:2717. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02717. eCollection 2018.

Abstract

The ending effect describes the phenomenon that individuals are more risk-taking during the final round of a series of risky decision tasks. Previous research suggests that the ending effect might be caused by a motivational shift induced by changes in time perception. However, none of the existing research directly tested the motivational state immediately before the last round of a series of risky decision tasks. To fill in this gap of knowledge, the present study tested whether this motivational shift indeed occurs immediately before the last round. All participants worked on 11 rounds of risky decision tasks, half of them knew that the decision tasks included 11 rounds, whereas the other half did not know. Before the last round of the risky decision tasks, all participants completed a visual reaction time task. It was found that, compared with participants who were not aware of the impending ending, those who knew they were approaching the last round responded to peripherally located character strings appearing immediately after gain-related words slower than those appearing after loss-related words, suggesting that perceived endings lead participants to be more motivated toward gaining rewards. This work provides critical evidence which supports the motivational account of the ending effect proposed in previous research. Such a finding would represent a next step in unpacking the psychological consequences of perceived endings in everyday life.

Keywords: Socioemotional Selectivity Theory; ending effect; motivational shift; risky decision-making; visual reaction time task.