The Science Of Winning And Losing

With Jane Clayson in for Tom Ashbrook.

We examine the science of winning and losing. Why a lucky few are top dogs and the rest of us aren’t.



When the stakes are high, when it’s all on the line, some people rise to the occasion.  They savor the challenge.  The thrill of competition.  They want, badly, to win.  While others feel dread.  Their hands go cold.  They begin to sweat.

Bestselling authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman have looked at the research of what happens to us when we compete.  They’ve found that some people are wired to be warriors.  Others, to be worriers.   That women are wired differently than men.  That positive thinking – like imagining yourself taking the victory lap – makes you less likely to succeed.

This hour, On Point: we look at the science of winning and losing.


Po Bronson, co-author of “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing.” Co-founder of the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto. (@pobronson)

Ashley Merryman, co-author of “Top Dog,” attorney and former speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore. (@ashleymerryman)

From the Reading List

The Onion A.V. Club “A competitor’s testosterone level before a chess game can predict whether he’ll win. A ballroom dancer who has competed for years can still have the same anxiety levels found in someone skydiving for the first time. Job hunters who spend a lot of time visualizing their dream job are more likely to still be unemployed six months later. These are some of the surprising findings uncovered by researchers around the world and gathered by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in Top Dog: The Science Of Winning And Losing.”

The Wall Street Journal “When Americans visit Japanese schools, or invite Japanese children to play with their own children, they often set up the quintessential competitive American game of musical chairs. And invariably they are shocked to observe that Japanese children hate this game. They cry. They won’t play. They offer their last chance at a chair to ¬another. Exclude a child in each round? What sort of horrible game is that?”

Forbes “The last few years, it’s become the conventional wisdom that the secret to success is accumulating ten years’ worth of deliberate, effortful practice. Practice what makes you an expert. We felt there was something missing from that formula. We are not judged on how we practice. We’re judged on how we perform, under pressure, when it counts. We need competitive fire. Ashley and I wanted to know – what makes someone have that?”

Excerpt: “Top Dog”

From the book TOP DOG: The Science of Winning and Losing. Copyright (c) 2013 by Pro Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Reprinted by permission of Twelve/Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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