Psychology Corner: Priming

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, someone highly qualified to talk about this through his work, contributes a piece on Priming (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

We’re back in Psychology Corner, thinking about the effect of various mental processes, loopholes and shortcuts and how they might impact the way we play FPL.

Lets have a quick look at controversial subject called ‘Priming’.

In a nutshell, priming is the idea that our thinking, planning and decision making can be unconsciously influenced or ‘nudged’ by previous information.

This is especially the case if there are multiple ways of interpreting the information.

For example, if you read the word ‘glue’ then the word ‘tape’, you’re much more likely to think of something like sello or gaffa tape than a video tape because of the association of stickiness created by the word glue.


This comes up loads in FPL; you see a statistic and can interpret it in a whole bunch of ways.

Imagine, for example, that I told you that Felipe Anderson scored in three of his last four matches with a blank in the middle. That’s an objective truth, a simple statement of facts. Of course, this truth can be presented in a number of ways but that’s an issue for another post.

Priming can influence how you interpret this stat, however.

Imagine you were then considering purchasing Felipe for your FPL side.

If you’ve read a lot of ‘Felipe is a fraud!’ type posts, that will be the mindset you are in when you read information about him. This may mean that you’re more pessimistic toward the Brazilian, meaning you may be put off purchasing him.

The opposite is also true: reading lots of information about how he’s on fire and a must buy can also prime you in this situation: you may feel more positive about the prospect of signing the Hammers wing man.

We know that people can read information differently depending on motivation (as Tom will note below), but Priming here could play a role in how two managers could come to entirely different conclusions on a player despite the data or fact being the same for both.

This is just one example of how our mental shortcuts can influence us – no matter whether we’re a statto or more of a gut feeling manager.

Tom note

Of course, this links very strongly to what we said in our article on framing.
We’re walking in the same territory, with the priming effect having a clear bearing on the framing of the information.

Conceptual priming

Interestingly, there’s some evidence that something call ‘conceptual priming’ can occur, where you associate properties (like skill or goal scoring ability) to someone if you have a strong awareness of others in that category.

For example, it’s possible that you’re more likely to over-estimate the points returns of talisman players if you spend loads of time getting involved with GOAT debates.

However, conceptual priming is extremely controversial, so this is more an interesting possibility than a hard rule.


So, priming can change the way we perceive, think about and attach value to individual items (or players), but it can also change the way we approach certain tasks.

A study in hospital found that putting more references to safety in the nurses’ shift plans caused them to better follow health and safety protocol.

This makes sense doesn’t it: the more you have an idea in your mind, the more likely you are to act according to it.

If you get told ‘McDonalds is well tasty’ five times a day, you’re more likely to go there when you fancy a nibble. This is why brands spend so much money on advertising on buses, metros (like the Tube) and outdoors – so you’re primed to consider them when a relevant need state arises.

This is the same with FPL.

If you follow one type of account, a risk averse player, a hits merchant *cough*, a statto, a ‘eye-test-onlyism’ manager etc., you’re more likely to adapt your play style to include some of those philosophies.

It also works with individual players.

If someone tweets every day about the virtues of a particular differential (lets say McArthur), when you’re looking for a cheap midfielder, your mind is more likely to jump to that player.

Tom note: this can also be linked with availability heuristic, in how the information we are primed with becomes more salient and easy to retrieve, leading us to make decisions influenced by both effects. An article on this is forthcoming

None of this bad in of itself. But make sure you do your own thinking and reading.

Often in FPL it’s better to double check your first response and to make sure you’re making your own decisions and this is one way to be aware of that.

(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.)