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Studying Students' Reaction to Chance

Darden's Luckiest Student contest has a big prize and looks at a serious research question: how we make rational decisions in the face of uncertainty

Max Park strode triumphantly into a meeting hall at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business on Feb. 20, smiling as he waved at the hundreds of students who had gathered to watch him vie for the chance to win $18,750. Calling himself the "champion of chance" and wearing a necklace inscribed with the words "Darden's Luckiest Student," the first-year MBA held his breath as a ball from a wire cage popped open and he was handed a check for $3,000. According to the rules of the contest, Park had to use that money to buy one of two briefcases.

He jumped onto the stage where two men in tails, top hats, and white gloves held the briefcases, One contained a coupon for $18,750, while the other held nothing. Park took a deep breath and picked the briefcase held by the man standing closest to him. After asking the assembled students to count out loud to three, he pried open the briefcase clasp. After a brief dazed moment, Park popped his arm into the air as his classmates cheered. A few moments later, he was holding an oversized check for $18,750—the value of a semester's in-state tuition at Darden.