Psychology Corner: The Availability Heuristic

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.

Think about Manolo Gabbiadini.

Go on, think about him.

Fools better be thinking ’bout me

OK, what kinds of things sprung to mind?

For some managers, I bet it was the double blank at the end of last season in the DGWs, which meant you had a negative association front of mind when you thought of him.

Nick was one of those burnt!

Now, ask yourself this: what if he scored a hat trick this Gameweek? Would you bring him in like those unaffected by his blank might (e.g. me, Tom, probably would if I didn’t already own him), or would your disappointment in Gabbi colour your decision negative?

I suspect that, for those managers like Nick, it may be the latter.

This is a perfect illustration of tendency to use salient, emotionally charged or, crucially, recent moments more when making decisions. This can complement other psychological drivers such as impulse and the recency effect to affect our behaviour.

It’s called the availability heuristic.

What’s a heuristic?

A heuristic, and its counterpart a bias, is, in short, a mental shortcut our brains have developed to navigate the world around us. This is because our brains have evolved to cope with the multiple inputs that surround us. They do this through ‘automating’ mental processes, such as filtering information or making rough calculations, to make as much sense as it can of the increasingly noisy world around us.

OK, what’s availability heuristic?

Think about us back in Upper-Paleolithic (I checked this with Ed, and he assures me our ancestors were cave dwellers at this point!) times. Obviously, our cavepeople ancestors had no internet and no social media, no newspapers, no real communication outside of word of mouth with your immediate group of cavepeople.

Because of this, our brains have been predisposed to favour evidence that you’ve personally experienced in decision making. For example, think about some basic things a caveperson might feasibly know through experience, such as which berry would make you sick if eaten.

The acquiring of knowledge such as stats databases to allow an “objective” view provides us a new perspective to consider which doesn’t just rely on availability of memory that is still underused by many managers.

Many still act on immediately available data to drive decisions, often driven by impulse (read last week’s post on that here).

How does this relate to FPL?

In two ways.

1) When making decisions on who to bring in and take out of our sides

Salient (i.e. the stronger) associations are a strong influence on your thinking when you’re considering who to move in and out of your side. As mentioned, Gabbi’s past failures could preclude him from any consideration for some managers. Other examples include a preference to bring in Siggy as you have positive memories of his assists, or being reluctant to remove Kun despite his minutes being in doubt because of his high book value (article on this here).

2) It drives transfer market activity and trends

The second way this impacts FPL is that it jolts the transfer market into action. 

Managers looking at their teams on Saturday or Sunday night are often lured into considering changes, with a good few actually confirming them as a reaction to the players’ performance – the salient fact they use to guide their decision – with perhaps consideration for the nice potential early rise also a byproduct of that move. These managers may see that the player has scored and gotten bonus which is all the justification they need: availability heuristic in action! This can also work negatively too (i.e. player blanked and dropping).

In turn, other managers will see this player is rising/falling after their performance and be lured in – herd mentality in action!

Fascinating, eh?

Final example

As a final example, think about the rollercoaster that has been Chicharito.

Think about petit pois

So far, he’s the 3rd highest sold player this Gameweek with over 110,000 ditching him after his blank. Almost 475,00 managers drafted him in just last week, so that is a stark contrast!

Maybe some managers simply saw that he hasn’t scored this week and that was enough to inform their decision to get rid?

Broadly speaking, these are often the guys without the inclination to dig in the data, which shows that he hasn’t been getting the service and things could well improve with home matches to come, and just make the move based on what they see on the FPL website on a Saturday night.

Conclusion

There are 2 main ways the availability heuristic is seen in FPL:

  1. It impacts decisions are made on players to bring in and take out of our XVs.
  2. It jolts the market as, for some managers, last week’s score is enough to justify the move, leading to a proliferation as others react to market trends.

Both of these manifestations are visible in the conversation around FPL – Nick and I are both guilty of it! – where people are relying on availability heuristic. This helps us make a decision as we take the shortcut of using that piece of information we’ve seen to drive behaviour… even if there are better options available.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s helped us survive in the past, for example knowing which berries are edible and which are poisonous in our gathering days. But now with stats on offer it may be better to be aware of it (hence this article) and use those too to help make a “hybrid” decision using sub- and objective viewpoints.

(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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