Supersize doesn't equal super prize despite what some think, says research
'You're 16 per cent more likely to supersize while this promotional contest is on'
Arnold Johnson has been playing Roll Up the Rim for a decade and although he hasn't won once, he believes that buying a bigger coffee increases his chances.
"The more you spend … the more chance you have to win because it's more money in the till for them," he said.
New research shows that Johnson isn't alone in his theory, despite it being false.
Ethan Pancer, an assistant business professor at Saint Mary's University, has released a report looking into people's buying habits in contests such as McDonald's Monopoly or Tim Horton's Roll Up the Rim.
Pancer told CBC's Information Morning these contests affect the size of products people buy more than the number of products they purchase.
"People tended to be supersizing their orders around the times of these lotteries," said Pancer. "You're 16 per cent more likely to supersize while this promotional contest is on."
The research included eight studies. Consumer choices were presented to groups of people to find statistical differences between their selections in various hypothetical situations.
Based on this information, researchers ran experiments, bringing people into the lab to examine the factors behind their purchasing decisions.
Pancer said they looked at the rules around the contests and there was no indication that buying bigger would improve anyone's chances of getting any prize, or getting a larger prize versus a smaller prize.
He said these habits could correlate to overconsumption and obesity. He referenced research about the extra calories gained on average for people who buy larger sizes.
"If you're supersizing you're gaining 55 per cent more calories — likely to gain five pounds per year," said Pancer.
Tom Ransom, an endocrinologist at Victoria General Hospital in Halifax who works actively on obesity initiatives, said the problem isn't necessarily the contests themselves since they usually don't last more than a month.
Ransom said the bigger concern is the habits they can create over time.
"If you've been getting large french fries for a month and the contest ends, it's certainly reasonable to say someone would continue on with the large size being their new habit."
Ransom, who wasn't involved in the research project, said these types of contests risk promoting behaviour change in a "negative" way.
Pancer said the research shows people believe that if they give more money to a business they should have better access to good prizes.
In reality, Pancer said these contests are actually more about "psychological control."
The research also looked at gambling literature and found people engage in rituals or superstitions that help convince them they will win.
For example, Pancer said gamblers tend to approach larger slot machines because they think the payoffs will be better.
He suggests a solution to these biases is that people should "think about it a little more rationally" when looking at the odds.
"It doesn't really matter the product size that you have, supersizing is not really going to help you in these contexts."
with files from CBC's Information Morning