Success really does breed success, unique online experiments find


April 28, 2014
Brain & Behavior

Success really does breed success – up to a point – found researchers from UCL and Stony Brook University, following a series of unique on-line experiments.

For decades, it has been observed that similar people experience divergent success trajectories, with some repeatedly succeeding and others repeatedly failing. Some suggest initial success can catalyse further achievements, creating a positive feedback loop, while others attribute a string of successes to inherent talent. To test these views the researchers conducted four experiments that measured the impact of experimental support – such as a donation or positive endorsement – on subsequent success.

They found that success was more likely to follow initial assistance, with crowd-funders on kickstarter.com arbitrarily given an initial donation being about twice as likely to receive further contributions as others who only received funding through standard routes. In the ideological arena, the granting of a dozen signatures to a randomly selected petition on change.org led to the project attracting another endorsement more often than petitions that did not receive the orchestrated support. However, the magnitude of the support offered had little effect on the outcome.

Lead author on the paper, Dr Arnout van de Rijt (Institute for Advanced Computational Science, Stony Brook University, USA) said: “Theoretically, it’s hard to see if the ‘success breeds success’ effect exists – it could be that it reflects genuine ability. To tease out where the success comes from, we did experiments that gave artificial help to some people and not others.

“In real-life environments, we gave success to some people in the form of a donation, ideological support, an endorsement or high status and found that these arbitrarily favoured people were more successful at the end than others not given this preferred treatment.”

In the first experiment, the researchers donated funding to 100 of 200 new, unfunded projects on the crowd-funding website kickstarter.com and monitored the level of later funding. 39% of projects without the initial experimental donation attracted future donations, compared with 70% of those given the experimental donation – almost two times more.

The second experiment involved the website epinions.com, for which reviewers are paid for evaluations of new products according to how helpful website visitors rate their reviews. 90% of reviews which received experimental endorsement were rated as ‘very helpful’ within two weeks of treatment, compared to 77% in the sample without the initial boost.

In the third test, a random subset of the top 1% most productive editors on the website Wikipedia.org were conferred an award. During the observation period of five months, 31% of the editors without this start received a status award, whereas 40% of those given an initial status award attracted at least one more other award.

The fourth test used the petition website change.org, where people seek support from the general public for social and political goals through electronic signature campaigns. The researchers reviewed 200 early-stage campaigns and granted a dozen signatures to 100 campaigns chosen at random. They found that 52% of individuals who did not benefit from the signature package received at least one more signature, compared with 66% of those given an extra 12 signatures for the experiment.

However, when the research team carried out a second study to investigate whether success increases in proportion to the help given, they found that, for example, giving twice as much funding does not provide twice as much success.

Dr Soong Moon Kang (UCL Management Science & Innovation, UK) said: “Our research has implications for the success of initiatives to counter inequality and create a more meritocratic society. It also suggests that these don’t need to be big or costly to help: it’s the initial boost that matters. We also find that interventions have much more effect on those coming from very little.”


7 Responses to Success really does breed success, unique online experiments find

  1. u14031354 May 2, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    I do believe that success breeds success because once you achieve your goals it boosts your self-confidence and you start believing in yourself. This later on helps, when you are faced with daunting tasks, to come out on top. However, it is important to also not give up when you fail and keep on trying to achieve success.

  2. Nigel Mutero(14112206) May 2, 2014 at 4:37 am #

    I agree that success does breed success. I believe the human mind is the most powerful tool in the world and you just have to choose how you use it. I agree that success breeds success because once one has begins to succeed, he/she will have the psychological momentum to keep working towards their future goals and hence succeed.

    On the other hand, if one hasn’t succeeded, it doesn’t mean they wont succeed. Take a look at Thomas Edison for example, he didn’t succeed in his attempt to make the light bulb at least 10 000 times, but he eventually got it right as he kept trying and never gave up. I agree with C Marais that not succeeding can also be a driving factor for one to succeed.

    So yes, success does breed success as you would have attained psychological momentum so it will give you more motivation to keep it up like that.

  3. Nokwanda Mtshali(14112966) April 29, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    In my opinion,success breeding success is a very accurate judgment and observation. If one gets a taste of success,their hunger for more success grows and they do everything in their power to make sure that everything that they do is a success. Its all in the mind,let’s take academics for example. If a learner does very well in school and gets high marks and distinctions all the time, you will find that that learner works even harder to make sure that they keep their up their good streak and eventually, it becomes a way of life for them. They have confidence and they don’t have a problem with facing new challenges because they know that in the end they will succeed,regardless of the hardships they come up against.

    On the contrary, a learner that is used to getting bad marks all the time isn’t motivated to do better and put in more effort into their work because they feel like it would be a waste of time because they’ll still get the same bad marks and be disappointed again. They adopt this negative attitude, that no matter what they do,they’ll always get bad marks and their confidence is destroyed and they get stuck in this vicious cycle.

    Once one succeeds in something,it results in a chain effect and you always go after the success that you’ve had a taste of. You know what to do to acheive it and you have the confidence to go for it

  4. C Marais 14071046 April 29, 2014 at 6:31 am #

    The human mind is a very powerful machine. If you succeed in something you feel pretty good about yourself and those positive thoughts leads to the mind constantly thinking that as a person I can do anything. We all know the saying: You can do anything if you put your mind to it, and if your mind is already in a positive state it is so much easier to succeed in the things you do next.

    I personally now from experience that if you do not succeed in something you do it gives your self confidence a huge knock and it is hard to succeed further in live if you think you are not good enough thus failure will most of the time lead to more failure because your attempt is not fuelled with self belief, and if you do not believe in yourself you will struggle.

    I also know from personal experience that failure may be a driving factor. If you are determined, not succeeding will only motivate you to work harder and you will do anything in your power to succeed. Thus failing may not be only bad. It can be seen as further motivation to reach success.

    I do agree that success leads to further success because if you get a taste of victory you won’t want to live without it.

  5. Matt burgerhoff(14011248) April 29, 2014 at 4:43 am #

    After reading this article I have to say that I agree with Tristan. It is hard to measure success, everybody has a different definition for success.

    I think this topic also relates to the mind over matter theory. People who receive that initial boost of success are put into the right frame of mind. They gain confidence in themselves or their ideas and this sets off a chain reaction of further successes in the future. People who do not receive this initial boost may end up doubting themselves which leads to failure in the future.

    I also think that the research could be affecting by people’s fear of missing out. People see for example lots of signatures on a petition and immediately join their signature to the list, just to say they were a part of it.

    Does success breed success? I think the answer is yes.

  6. 14048362 April 29, 2014 at 3:11 am #

    Success can be very demanding at times. To achieve a certain goal, one has to do a lot more, be at their best, sacrifice time or any other thing, and give their all. One cannot achieve success without putting some effort. But sometimes a person can falter on his/her way to success. This is when motivation is needed.

    Motivation is mostly acquired through early success. This is what this article proves. When a person has initial success, he/she has the motivation to continue, do much better, and to do even more. Those who do not gain an initial glimpse of success can become vulnerable and can easily give up. This does not say that only initial success will make you more successful in the end, but that it is a helping factor.

  7. Tristan Venter (u14040311) April 29, 2014 at 2:24 am #

    Looking into this topic of success breeding more success, we have to realise that it will not be easy to measure ‘success’ accurately. There are no units in which we can measure success accurately, and that is why we have to use percentages in order to be able to compare different successes. The online experiments clearly showed that the people who were given an initial boost of ‘success’, went on to achieve more success than those who were not given the initial boost. Even though the difference in percentages between the two groups was not always major, the group that was given the initial boost always came out on top.

    Now what does this research actually tell us about successes in our current times. Is this research saying that everyone who is really successful today was given a boost at some stage to help them to get to where they are today? Is it saying that people who are not given a boost of success at some stage will never be as successful as those who have been given a boost?

    I believe that this research is telling us how success is always a positive thing, and that by receiving ‘success’ in life, it will only help an individual to continually become more and more successful. This research is not saying that people need to receive some ‘success’ in order to achieve more success. It is simply stating that success can help people a lot in their lives with moving forward, and therefore achieving more success. However, anyone who wants to be successful in life can become successful, as long as they want it badly enough, and they are therefore willing to do almost anything to achieve it.

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