What is the Near-Miss Effect in Slot Machines?


Have you ever played a game where you almost won, but didn’t? That’s called a ‘near-miss.’ This can happen while playing slot games, too. Let’s learn what the near-miss effect in slot machines means and how it can impact the people playing these games.

Definition of the Near-Miss Effect

As already discussed, a near-miss in slot machines is when it looks like you almost won, but didn’t quite make it. It refers to a situation where feedback for a loss approximates a win.

In slot machines, this can occur when a player nearly hits the jackpot or receives symbols on the reels that suggest a win is about to happen. For example, if you spin the wheels and get two cherries and one lemon, that could be considered a near-miss.

This effect is thought to have a reinforcing function on gambling persistence. This means that the player may feel motivated to continue playing the slot machine in the hopes of hitting the jackpot.

Impact on Players

The near-miss effect can have a significant impact on the behavior of slot machine players. There is proof that near-misses can make a person’s body respond, like making their heart beat faster or sweating more.

They may also believe they are close to winning and that their luck is about to change. As a consequence, they may keep playing it. This can lead to increased persistence in playing the slot machine.

Direct Experimental Tests of the Near-Miss Effect

Despite the evidence that the near-miss effect can influence the behavior of slot machine players, there have been surprisingly few direct experimental tests of this phenomenon.

This makes it difficult to fully understand the extent to which the near-miss effect influences gambling persistence and the behavior of slot machine players.

Of the few studies that have been conducted so far, one focusing on direct experimental tests of the near-miss effect is available in the article titled “The Near-Miss Effect in Slot Machines: A Review and Experimental Analysis Over Half a Century Later.”

The study aimed to examine the effect of near misses on persistence in slot machine gambling in a real-world setting. This idea was first proposed by B.F. Skinner 66 years ago, but the experimental literature has been inconsistent.

The study conducted three experiments to assess the near-miss effect on the frequency of gambling behavior.

In the first experiment, the near-miss effect was evaluated in pigeons using a resistance-to-extinction procedure. In the second experiment, the same procedure was used with human participants. The results of both experiments failed to support the near-miss effect hypothesis.

In the third experiment, a simplified procedure was used to assess the validity of the resistance-to-extinction paradigm when a probable conditional reinforcer was present on the reel stimuli.

The results showed a clear conditional response, but subsequent testing could not establish a reinforcing function of this stimulus on the frequency in which the operant responded. Thus,  the study found no evidence to support the near-miss effect hypothesis and even suggested that the idea may not be valid in slot machines.

In another study titled “Dopamine Modulates Reward Expectancy During Performance of a Slot Machine Task in Rats: Evidence for a ‘Near-miss’ Effect,” it was found that rats showed a preference for the ‘collect’ lever in a slot machine task after near-misses, indicating heightened reward expectancy.

This preference was increased by drugs that activate the dopamine D2 receptor, suggesting that dopamine modulates reward expectancy during gambling.

The results support the idea that near-misses drive continued gaming and contribute to the development of pathological gambling, and that dopamine may further play a role in this process via its effects on reward expectancy.


The near-miss effect is a phenomenon that occurs in slot machines and can influence the behavior of players. While there is evidence that the near-miss effect can affect subjective measures and physiological responses, there have been few direct experimental tests of this phenomenon.

Understanding the near-miss effect is important for understanding why people continue to play slot machines and the impact that these machines have on players.