Psychology Corner: Mental Accounting & Book Value

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.

Purchases are made with the expectation of future benefit – known as utility to economists (here, we’re in the realm of behavioural science, which is what I work in). If it doesn’t meet that expectation, we replace it as soon as we can.

Imagine you’ve bought a sofa – you’ll want utility from it for a length of time commensurate to the amount you’ve invested. All things being equal, you won’t replace it based on the product performance alone if it does meet your expectations of utility (e.g. sitting on it daily). But if it doesn’t match them, then you might well do (if outside warranty, of course!)

This is because when we buy something, we open a “mental account” for it in our minds, and within it keep track of whether this asset eventually attains the level of utility required to match what you expected to get for the price you paid. The increasing or decreasing stock of this purchase is called a “book value. If this book value does match the expectations from your initial decision to purchase in your mental account, you tend to keep the product; if it doesn’t, you’ll look for a replacement.

The threshold for replacement is highly individual, and is often informed by your own experience with whatever you’ve purchased; if you’ve had a good experience with a like purchase (e.g. it’s from a brand you trust) you’re likely to persevere, whereas if you’ve had a bad experience in the same context you are more likely to replace.

Book value diminished by bookings

Pertinently for us as FPL managers, this can apply to virtual assets too – human brains are unable to distinguish between virtual and real as when we were evolving there was no such thing are virtual so both are treated similarly. Relevantly, let’s imagine you’ve brought August-hating Harry Kane in at 12.5. You expect to see a certain amount of utility relative to of outlaying 12.5m to acquire the asset. Now we’ve seen a pair of blanks from Kane, for many managers his “book value” as an asset is below our expectation of utility – we expected more than 2x1pters. As a result, we’re seeing sales of Kane from managers in whose mental account the Spurs man’s book value has hit negative equity, meaning they want a replacement.

As mentioned, this threshold for replacement can be different depending on experience. Keeping to our Kane example, I’m retaining him for the Burnley match because I’ve had good past experience with him and I think he will eventually provide me the utility I expect – his book value in my mental account has of course depreciated, but there’s enough in there for now for me to retain. I haven’t hit the threshold for replacement yet. In contrast, if I had a player like Rondon – who has failed me spectacularly in the past – and he had one bad week, he’d very quickly be out on his ar$e.

Further contextual factors such as impulse (which we’ll cover on the pod this week), lack of experience and social/other factors can play a role (such as herd mentality in the meta) in how people’s thresholds differ as well.

Applying this concept more widely, it’s intuitively clear that this is happening across the transfer market – assets are not giving the expected utility, leading to replacement behaviour. Premium assets tend to have a higher book value as there is an expectation of returns – eventually – whereas more mid-range or budget ones tend to have low book values in mental accounts, meaning they are usually subject to turnover.

This psychological concept will always be in play for us FPL managers. But the real skill of the game lies in whether our perseverance and/or wheeling and dealing pays off, and making the right decision at the right time. That’s down to you as an individual, but hopefully this gives you more of an insight into how psychology can affect FPL.

(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)

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