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. I initially wrote a lot of these back in 2017, but they’ve been retrofitted with new examples and finessed to better suit today’s context.
Please note these articles aren’t claiming to explain everything that is going on, but are suggesting a psychological factor (or two) that could be influencing behaviour.
We are constantly consuming a huge feed of information through our involvement in the FPL community, be it through reading posts and threads on social channels, visiting blogs, and listening to podcasts (like WGTA!).
In terms of how information is presented, the format tends to be a name plus a stat for why this position has been taken – e.g. “consider [x] for your team, he’s done [stat]”, “I’m keeping [x] because of [stat]”.
You’ll no doubt start to see a barrage of these as preseason ramps up: “Differential Player” posts in particular will be popular and receive a lot of traction on social channels.
This can, of course, extend to longer posts or podcast sections, all hinging on a certain portrayal of data.
However, as we’ve often joked about, the use of words and numbers can be a very fluid thing – they can be presented in certain ways to support a particular point you’re trying to make.
In psychology, this is called framing.
A quick example
Consider the case of the following two players:
Player 1: This player was so dangerous this season. He topped the data for Forwards in FPL for stats like shots in the box and headed attempts, and his overall number of 131 attempts over his 37 appearances equated to 3.5 shots per match. He also got a lot of big chances, too, with 23 which was just 3 beneath Sergio Aguero. He offers goalscoring threat and bucketloads of chances – he’ll definitely be near the top of my list if available in FPL next season! Buy, buy, buy.
Player 2: This player performed below expectations this term. He’s been simply anaemic in front of goal, well outside the top 10 for goals scored with 11, despite a lot of chances coming his way, showing his deeply disappointing conversion rate of just 8.4%. He also underperformed on his xG, with him scoring -3.13 goals than he should have. You can’t rely on this guy to perform for you consistently. Hard avoid from me if he’s in FPL next season! Sell, sell, sell.
So, who is player 1?
What about player 2?
What we can take from this is that how you frame the information has a big impact on the effect of your statement on the audience.
As you can infer, there are almost always multiple ways to frame information.
Framing in psychology
Framing is a cognitive bias which dictates how people form preferences depending on the way in which options are presented.
This tends to work on a loss or gain basis, meaning that presentation of information tends to revolve around how the commodity in question would see you benefit or be limited in comparison to a perceived “norm”.
This is because the way in which something is expressed provides either oral or visual reference points, which our brains use to interpret the meaning behind what we’re being told.
As I said at the top, in the FPL community there is a constant stream of information being fed to us. The sheer volume of it means that we often don’t have the time (n)or the inclination to look deeper into what we see in front of us.
The danger can sometimes be that things are taken at face value and believed, even if the point is ridiculous when shorn of context.
We like to think that, as experienced and savvy managers, we think more about this and can see past it, but for others this can be internalised as the truth. The media feeds in to this, too – think of the lazy stereotypes wheeled out by “pundits” on a weekly basis.
*Player does something good*
Robbie Savage: I think he’s played well tonight.
*Player does something bad*
Robbie Savage: I think he’s been poor tonight.
Someone get him a colouring book please ffs.
— BadFPL (@BadFPL) May 29, 2019
However, I’m by no means claiming we at WGTA are utterly objective, however much we strive to be. This is because of researcher bias.
Researcher bias – in brief
Even people like us, who strive to give listeners the full picture, can fall prey to psychological effects.
Researcher bias is fallibility when it comes to the individual carrying out the research – so using WGTA as an example, when we’re doing an attacker analysis Nick loves shots in the box as a stat and will always look there first, whereas I favour xG OP (expected goals from open play).
Using those stats as a starting point may frame our view, and make us therefore come to highlight certain players, whereas another researcher may start somewhere else and come up with a slightly different conclusion.
So I’d advise, whenever you see stats, to try to check it out the source of the data for yourself, or think for yourself of another way of presenting the data.
When you see the avalanche of posts to come on social channels highlighting how good a player is over preseason, think critically about the post itself and ask if there might be another way of explaining it.
It can often be the case that there’s more that lies behind the interpretation of the data you’ve been presented; it’s almost always framed to illustrate a point.
But remember that no matter how hard we try to be objective, everyone naturally presents data in a certain way to reinforces a point they’re trying to make.
And, as always, it’s up to you to judge which interpretation is best.
(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)