Psychology Corner: Impulse & Perfect Cash Bias

This is Psychology Corner, where Tom brings in his knowledge from his professional life to bear in analysing the psychology and behaviour of Fantasy Football (FPL) managers. This will often follow up on what we mentioned in the most recent pod.

Many psychological studies have shown that there’s a gap between intended behaviour and what people actually do.

So what explains this? Well, a myriad of things, but one of these is impulse.

In psychology, one way of thinking about this is to imagine a system whereby impulse works in tandem with reflection in influencing our behaviour. Think of them as being two sides of the same coin; another way of conceptualising this is rational vs. irrational thinking.

In the literature this model delights in the name of the RIM system, or the Reflection/Impulse Model.

This posits that impulse is a powerful force that bypasses consideration and sees action superseding thought. The reflective moderates this and is the more “rational” part of you, but the impulse system can, and often does, bypass that reflective side, causing a behaviour to occur before you’ve even thought about it. Think needing to pee, taking a swig of water or buying chewing gum at the till in a supermarket.

How people process and balance the two systems is different for different people, with some people more able to resist the urge to act impulsively and more attuned to their reflective side. Think about people quitting smoking. Some people are able to manage their impulses and quit for good; others are invariably unable to resist the urge/cravings/impulse and fall off the wagon swiftly.

For an action to occur we tend to need a trigger. For needing to pee, it’s your body’s internal workings; for chewing gum, it’s the visual trigger of seeing it for sale as you finish your shop.

Mo fool me.

As mentioned in the previous psychology corner on mental accounting and book value (learn about this here), physical behaviours also translate into online behaviours; your brain interprets no real difference between the real and virtual world. The virtual world relies, of course, on visual triggers, which many psychological studies have shown to be the most impactful.

In FPL, a player smashing it out of the park, rising prices, and/or an FPL specific bias we’re terming “perfect cash bias” (where you see your intended moves can be made with 0.0 itb, and you see prices rising) can dictate behaviour. These factors – be it altogether or on their own – could mean you bypass your default intent (examples including to wait until the press conferences are all done by Friday; to roll my FT this week; to wait for the international break to finish) and act, making the impulse purchase. I did this with Pogba in for Salah last week, which obviously backfired.

This often results in buyer’s remorse, or to put it more correctly Post Purchase Rationalisation, which is when your reflective system kicks in and, more often that not, you think “woops”.

As mentioned, the fact that we each manage the RIM processes differently means that each FPL manager behaves differently (unless you’re copying me like my cousin is). Individual actions – and the timing of those actions – differ from person to person. Think about the timing of managers making their moves in the transfer market in terms of acquiring certain players who have done something in the afternoon rising by the evening versus those who wait ’til Friday, or those who have pulled their wildcard now versus those who are waiting ’til later.

I’m not saying there’s a right and wrong way to act, nor that we shouldn’t be impulsive. To finish on a bit of evolutionary psychology, think about the basic behaviours that impulse led to for our caveman ancestors, like eating when you’re hungry or drinking from an available water source when thirsty. Impulse, then, is an evolutionary tick designed to keep you alive; the reflective system perhaps highlights why we are the dominant species, but our more primal impulsive side survives in how we behave today and is expressed when playing FPL.

And I think that’s fascinating.

(caveat: these articles condense often complex concepts into bitesize chunks – there is obviously far more depth and detail to each concept, with reams of academic and practical theory around both that can’t be fully represented here)