American study: “best way to come first is to go last”

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The best way to come first is to go last. An analysis of almost 50 years of competitions, including the Eurovision Song Contests, has found that contestants are more likely to win if they are among the last to appear before the judges.

The study by an American university appears to provide scientific proof that the best man, or woman, does not always win. It found that, on average, the last competitor to appear in the Eurovision Song Contest was more than twice as likely to win as the one who went on first. The first candidate had only a six per cent chance of winning, compared with a 13 per cent chance for the final contestant.

The study showed a gradual worsening of chances for contestants who appeared earlier in the running order. A candidate who appears first in a contest is two per cent less likely to win than one who appears second. A candidate who appears second is two per cent less likely to win than one who appears third, and so on.

Dr Wandi Bruine de Bruin, from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, the author of the study, said: “This effect can have serious implications for the careers of performers. Most of the attention goes to the winner and you wouldn't want to come in second just because of your place in the programme.

Dr Bruine de Bruin, a researcher in social and division sciences, analysed results from the early rounds of the World and European Figure Skating Championships between 1994 and 2000 and Eurovision Song Contests between 1957 and 2003. The contests are judged in different ways but even when this and other factors, such as national bias, are taken into account, the results are the same. Scores increase in a linear fashion as a contest proceeds.

Bobby G, an original member of Bucks Fizz, who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981 with a skirt-ripping performance, said that going on 14th out of 20 had helped them to win. “I do think that if we had gone on stage first, we would have been hard pushed to win it,” he said. “Going on last gives you a much better chance of being remembered. Having said that, I think that we owe our career to Velcro.

The findings are published in the March issue of Acta Psychologica, a scientific journal. Robert Hardman, a senior lecturer in psychology at London Metropolitan University who specialises in the science of decision-making, said that the results were intriguing. He suggested that the effect was caused by the limitations of the human memory. “When people make comparisons, they aren't really capable of making a lot of fine-grade discrimination. When candidates appear at the beginning of a contest, judges have little to compare them to and are perhaps wary of the scores they give,” he said. “Later on, when judges are able to compare the candidates to those that have gone before, they might give more extreme marks because they feel more confident about their judgments.

The draw for the 2005 Eurovision Song Contest will be executed during the Head of Delegation meeting on 21st and 22nd March in Kiev.

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