Psychology Corner: Hypocrisy and Dissonance

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

As people who are active in the FPL community, we are often asked to give an opinion on things.

This opinion is disseminated publicly – either on the pod or by us on social media, or even in places like the FPL Show (when we’re drafted in after everyone else has said no at the last minute, because Lee FPL Family has a hair appointment he just can’t get out of…).

This presents many benefits (hopefully we’re giving good advice to people, and it gets our word out there), but it also carries many risks.

The kind of risk that is the focus of this short piece is if might be if we say “oh I would never transfer in [player x]” but then, on the Saturday morning, it transpires that, actually, we’ve signed them – we all know someone who has done that, or indeed done it ourselves!

It may be that we are then open to accusations of hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy and dissonance

This is a real fear for us all: being called a hypocrite is an anxiety that influences people’s behaviour in all contexts – think of politicians (well, before the current “post-truth” era anyway), or parents.

It’s a very emotionally driven psychological effect on behaviour – we don’t want to lose our sense of ‘dignity’.

Hypocrisy itself is interesting as it feeds into the psychology of dissonance –the discomfort felt from having two competing thoughts or behaviours.

Rational thinking dictates that we shouldn’t be able to hold two beliefs that compete simultaneously: this is the nub of what George Orwell darkly riffs upon with the idea of “doublethink” in 1984 (I’d strongly recommend anyone who hasn’t to read this and think about the world we now live in…)

Anyway, we aren’t rational as human beings – no, we really, really aren’t – but we always want to present ourselves as such.

For every one of us, as much as we might wish to style ourselves as open minded when it comes to current affairs, there’s ultimately a set of beliefs and ideas that we subscribe to and define ourselves by.

And, if we’re talking about them, we broadcast them outwardly.

So, whenever something happens that challenges that belief (e.g. I wasn’t going to buy a player, but suddenly circumstances change and getting him now looks a good option), it creates this cognitive dissonance.

How we respond to dissonance

Broadly, we broadly have 3 options in how we respond to this dissonance:

  • we can reject it immediately (Semmelweis)
  • consider it and then realise that we don’t want to change what we’ve said and appear a hypocrite
  • change your belief and post-rationalise why what you thought before was a mistake

I mentioned politicians earlier, and they are particular examples of number 3 in action: think when someone’s unsavoury old tweets are brought to light and they’re forced to apologise and claim they have changed.

The upshot of this is that we don’t tend to be too comfortable with holding competing beliefs and seek to resolve the dissonance.

This can lead to all kinds of behaviours which could ultimately be unfavourable to one’s own chances of success in a given pursuit.

Application to FPL

This is why we find things like people making unfavourable moves to avoid obvious solutions in FPL because they don’t want to be seen as a hypocrite.

An example may be someone who refused to transfer in Liverpool players, for example, despite their key men’s storming form.

Or imagine someone(!) not re-buying in a form player because they’d sold the player a week or two before and presented the case that it was the right thing to do – they may eventually not buy the player due not wanting to be seen as a hypocrite, when the rational choice is to cave (see also: sunk cost fallacy).

They, ultimately, may have valued their nebulous sense of “dignity” in not being seen as a hypocrite amongst their peers over their FPL fortunes which is, in the end, detrimental to them and only them.

Conclusion

A good solution to this if you find yourself in such a bind is try to think about things clinically – think the yellow legal pad of How I Met Your Mother fame.

Try to take your emotion and your own sense of ego out of it (much harder for some than others, admittedly), and instead concentrate on the actual pros and cons of the situation if your emotional attachment to the situation wasn’t a factor in your thinking.

You may then see the wood through the trees if you see everything in front of you, shorn of the emotional side of things.

Hypocrisy will always exist.

Just try to not to be trapped by worries about reflective emotional judgement if you are doing something that is contrary to your past assertions. It might be better to take the flack of being seen as a hypocrite if your FPL team has benefited.

Though in terms of being a hypocrite in real life, I’ll let you decide what’s 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)