Psychology corner – Involvement

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. 

So I was reflecting on my FPL performance recently after a question from our friend Andy Goodland, who remarked that he was having similar issues himself:

He, like me, was seemingly unable to stop himself taking hits week after week, often to his detriment. I’ve been finding, too, that many a week if I’d actually left my side alone it would have done so much better than in the case that I had acted.

This year, a patient game has reaped dividends – having characters like Salah and holding through the bad times is now bearing fruit. We also saw with Kevin de Bruyne, for example, that when he was sold en masse in Gameweek 3 he swiftly trolled sellers come Gameweek 4.

Encapsulating this, this Gameweek (13), I sold Jones to Walker for a hit because I wasn’t able to countenance playing Kyle Naughton. He recorded 9 points (a clean sheet plus all 3 bonus) for a 0-0 bore draw between Swansea and Bournemouth. I could have easily left it, but the fact I spend far more time than I should in my waking life thinking about FPL meant that I didn’t feel comfortable leaving Naughton to come in for big Phil.

All of this got me thinking: why might this be?

One reason for this could be different types of involvement.

Involvement in psychology

The academic literature of involvement defines two major typologies: enduring (stable) involvement and situational (transient) involvement.

Let’s apply this to a real world example.

Always the Hendrick’s!

Imagine you were buying a bottle of gin for a house party.

If you had enduring involvement with the category – say you were a bit of a  gin connoisseur – you might think about things like the taste notes, origin and product form of the gin bottle in making your purchase, with things like price and brand perhaps secondary considerations. You will, simply put, have thought about it a lot more than your average gin buyer and your choice may take longer before you are satisfied with the right decision as you mull over the options.

Contrastingly. if you are not a gin connoisseur, then your involvement is only situational; you will know that you want gin, but your decision on which to buy will be shaped predominantly by factors like price and brand when deciding what to buy: you won’t be thinking too deeply about the other factors behind the gin – taste notes, origin, rarity – when purchasing.  Your choice doesn’t have a high barrier for satisfaction – think of it as a “that’ll do” purchase.

In terms of evolutionary psychology, the notion of task-based specialisms is nothing new: think of the hunter v gatherer stereotype. However, as the scope of human activity has broadened (dramatically enabled by the interwebs, of course) conditions for “hyper-specificity” of specialism have been created. Personality naturally segments people: the level of involvement is one way of categorising how that works (greater nuances can be devised, but for the purposes of this article we are keeping to the top level).

Application to FPL

This is easy to apply for FPL in terms of the initial question of why some people may not be as able to stop themselves from tinkering with their sides than others.

On one hand, you have less engaged managers, who may log in on a Sunday night or a Friday night to make their transfers based on limited information (think Stephen Ward being 5.0 despite the alternative James Tarkowski at 4.5 arguably offering a similar output) such as the score they see on the first page of the list. They are only situationally involved with FPL – much like out “that’ll do” gin buyer, they click in, see they’ve got a player who has maybe blanked or is unavailable, and swap them for the top option that fulfils their objectives.

In contrast, more engaged managers will agonise about their team and put a lot more cognitive effort into their transfers. I think this includes me. We certainly may be more liable to be thinking beyond the immediate Gameweek when we are making transfers, meaning we can lose out on the immediate returns: I’m sure you’ve been there! Either way, the fact that your involvement is more enduring can mean that you are led to think about fantasy football in far more detail than your situationally involved cousins. This can often be the sole differentiator between no action and reaction, hit or no hit. The consequences of that action can influence how we perform as FPL managers.


The fact that you’re reading this probably indicates that you’re an enduringly involved FPL manager.

The best advice I can give, if your level of involvement is detrimental to your FPL rank, is to try to set yourself end goals in order to limit the potential for your impulse (written about here) to drive unnecessary action. For example, set yourself the objective of having 2 FTs “no matter what” next Gameweek, and trying to hold firm to that belief. Accept that sometimes exceptions occur (e.g. injury/long term suspension to key asset) but try to default to a position of holding on to 2FT. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

(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 that informs what is reported here)

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