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Cognitive Biases Abound in Sports: Guest Post @ Sciam

Coaches, managers, commentators and fans are cognitive disasters. When it comes to sports, we are idiot decision-makers. Read more in my latest post over at the Scientific American blog.

The gist:

When it comes to sports, data > intuition. Yet, coaches, managers, fans and commentators alike continue to go with their guts, especially when it comes to a team or player that is close to their hearts. If they want to decide optimally or speak about their beloved team or player with slightly more intelligence they should turn off their cognitive biases and look at the data. Trying to persuade someone to change a strategy, root for another team or consider why the sports team from your area is superior to the sports team from their area is not unlike trying to persuade a Republican that Obama is a good President or an atheist that God exists. It’s just not going to happen.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kuze #

    Here’s an excerpt from the wikipedia entry on “Hostile Media Effect”:

    “…study was conducted by Albert Hartorf and Hadley Cantril in 1954.[5] Princeton and Dartmouth students were shown a filmstrip of a controversial Princeton-Dartmouth football game. Asked to count the number of infractions committed by both sides, students at both universities “saw” many more infractions committed by the opposing side, in addition to making different generalizations about the game. Hartorf and Cantril concluded that “there is no such ‘thing’ as a ‘game’ existing ‘out there’ in its own right which people merely ‘observe.’ … For the ‘thing’ simply is not the same for different people whether the ‘thing’ is a football game, a presidential candidate, Communism, or spinach.”

    I’m a die hard (but rational) Maple Leafs fan and a colleague is a Philadelphia Flyers nut. He watched a Flyers vs. Leafs game that was broadcast on the Canadian channel that typically covers the Leafs as opposed to the usual Flyers broadcasters and “couldn’t believe” how tilted the commentators were in the Leafs favor. The funny thing is if you ask 99 out of a 100 Leafs fans they will tell you the opposite is the case, the Leafs broadcasters are slanted AGAINST the Leafs. Hilarious.

    One of my favourite lines is the one Jon Haidt says in his TED talk about sports being to war what porn is to sex.

    September 22, 2011
  2. sammcnerney #

    Great examples from your experience and wikipedia!

    And yes – love Haidt’s line.

    Also, is it possible to be a die hard fan and maintain rationality??? That’s a tough line (understandably) to straddle.

    September 22, 2011
  3. Kuze #

    Sorry I forgot to include a 😉 next to rational. I like to think that I’m better able than most Leafs fans to temper the pre-season optimism and the inevitable mid-season hopelessness with a little perspective but what fun would life be without the occasional irrational exuberance?

    September 23, 2011
    • sammcnerney #

      Don’t tell anyone, but I’m with you. Not only is impossible to be rational when it comes to sports, it’s no fun.

      That being said, totally different story for managers and coaches. Fans can be irrational – those in charge can’t, at least if they want to win games.

      Go Minnesota Wild btw.

      September 23, 2011
  4. as might probably and also a and lost to unnerving shape tightened

    March 12, 2014

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