Our proclivity for fantasy makes us an easy target for advertising. Lottery commercials depict winners in stretch limousines, counting stacks of money, dressed in evening gowns and tuxedos, sipping champagne. The commercials hit home because fantasizing about winning the lottery activates the same parts of our brains that would be activated if we actually won, notes Daniel Levine, a professor of psychology: "The motivational areas of the brain can be heavily influenced by vivid daydreaming."
But even fantasy will drop its hold on us if we always lose. Research has shown that positive reinforcement is key in virtually all of the successful lotteries, notes Williams. Lotteries that allow players to choose combinations of four or five numbers from a total of 60 numbers are popular, he says, because many players experience "the near miss," which creates the illusion that they came close to winning the multimillion-dollar jackpot.