Psychology Corner: Primacy Effect

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. 

In this instance though, Claret FPL, a man highly qualified to talk about this through his work, contributes a piece on the Primacy Effect (with some of my additions!)

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

Hi everyone, it’s ClaretFPL contributing to WGTA’s Psychology Corner once more after my debut piece on Priming last week.

Continuing in that vein, I wanted to think about how a few concepts from my work effect the way that we play FPL. I didn’t leap too far on the alphabetical list from my first article to the topic of this one, which is on the rule of the  ‘Primacy Effect’.

Now, when I say ‘rule’, I mean rule of thumb rather than a hard and fast law.

But there is a LOT of evidence showing how the primacy effect can, well, effect our decision making processes.


So, what is the primacy effect and why does it matter when we’re talking about FPL and making our teams?

Simply put, the primacy effect can disrupt our plans and ruin months of strategising.

The primacy effect is the technical name given to the finding that people tend to remember information presented at the start of a list better than the information given in the middle.

You also find that the information at the end of the list is remembered better (the recency effect/peak end rule) but that’s going off on a tangent.

Exactly why this is the case is long debated and depends on exactly how you believe memory works, but it involves, generally speaking, the capacity of your attention span and the amount you revise the information held during that attention span whilst the list is its focus.

For example, if I were to list the top 20 scoring midfielders from the 18/19 season, the primacy effect would mean I’d remember the first 8 or so reasonably easily.

Tom note: a similar theory to this in behavioural science is the “peak end” rule, which is where you remember a salient event (a “peak”) and the most recent thing with greater accuracy than more ‘average’ instances of events. Perhaps one to think about too!

Past studies

But Claret’, I hear you type, ‘We invented the pen and paper/word document/phone note (take your pick) for just this reason. I don’t need to memorise and recall lists of FPL midfielders anymore…’

Which is a fair point, well made!

However, in 2013, a researcher called Shteingart and his team (referred to as ‘they’ in the rest of this article), discovered how the primacy effect impacts our decision-making processes.

By analysing over 200,000 choices made by participants in their experiment, they found that not only were the first pieces of information presented better remembered, they had a bigger impact on choices made within the experiment.

Now, this makes sense: if you’re more likely to remember something, it’s more likely to influence your decisions.

However, they also found that the first pieces of information presented had the power to over-ride previously learnt patterns of behaviour.

It’s all about forming an understanding of the pattern of reward and punishment.

This means that, even if participants had learnt a pattern of events taking place in the information they knew, the first piece of information in a new round of choices could completely change the previous behaviours.

Simply put, new information presented early on in a process has the ability to change a long standing, previously effective plan and method.

FPL relevance

What does this mean for FPL?

We’ve just finished a season of being rewarded or punished via points gained for the decisions we’ve made in the season.

We know which players and strategies brought in the big scores and have all made ‘end of season lessons learnt’ lists.

However, the transfer window is about to open and three new teams are about to enter the league, along with loads of stats and information about how they performed in their previous leagues (e.g. from resources like Prospecting The Prospects)

We’re could be tempted away from our plans, lessons learnt, wisdom gained from last season by the promise of a new player who performed well in a different context.

Remember Jota at the start of last season? Sessegnon? Higuain in January?

I’m not saying don’t bargain shop at the new clubs or don’t go for a differential.

But be aware of how much weight our minds naturally give to the first few bits of information released by the game, by the first few articles we read or podcasts we listen to, especially if this is about new and exciting teams.

There’s still 3 weeks of preseason to go more or less, the knowledge of primacy effect means we shouldn’t overstate the importance of the first things you see or think about your team and roster picks. This is linked to the observations Tom noted in his piece on adaptive preference and sunk cost, which shows that there are also further psychological explanations for why it’s rarely a good decision to get too set in your ways this far out from Gameweek 1.

You’ll play FPL best when you’re aware of the leaps and shortcuts your mind takes.

This is why a lot of the prevailing advice now is to watch and wait newly promoted and/or newly signed players initially to see how they fare, rather than jumping in for an early punt.

You don’t lose much by waiting a couple of weeks and can gain much more via the information you gather, which enables you to simultaneously overcome the primacy effect as well as make better decisions!

(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.)