Category: Football

Football team lose yesterday? Your work performance will probably suffer today

sad frustrated friends fanatic football fans watching tv match dejectedBy Alex Fradera

How much do experiences in one part of our lives have effects that spill into other, seemingly separate domains? One obvious candidate is the football team you follow – it’s a distinctive arena that matters greatly for many people and involves a range of experiences, both high and low. For a new paper in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, a team led by Panagiotis Gkorezis at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki have tested whether your football team’s success can affect how you feel and perform at work. Continue reading “Football team lose yesterday? Your work performance will probably suffer today”

How the home crowd affects football referees’ decisions

One of the most thorough investigations into referee bias has found that they tend to award harsher foul punishments to the away team. The new results, published in the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, suggest that experienced referees are just as prone to this bias as their less experienced colleagues.

Andrés Picazo-Tadeo and his team analysed data from 2,651 matches played in the First Division of La Liga, the Spanish Football League between the 2002/3 and 2009/10 seasons, inclusive. Unlike previous research, they were careful to consider the referees’ foul decisions separately from the awarding of penalty cards (given as punishment for serious fouls). It’s been shown before that referees tend to award more free kicks and cards in favour of the home team, but this is not strong evidence for a home team bias because it’s possible that away teams simply tend to commit more fouls. The new research specifically looks not just at the distribution of referees’ foul decisions between home and away teams, but it also examines separately how harshly referees punish any fouls.

In fact, the research uncovered no difference in the number of fouls that referees attributed to home and away teams. But after a foul, referees tended to punish away teams more harshly with more yellow and red cards, and this was especially the case when the home crowd was larger. The presence of a running track between the pitch and the crowd made no difference, and as mentioned, neither did referee experience. The basic result complements a recent lab study that also found that simulated crowd noise influenced referees to punish fouls more severely.

Picazo-Tadeo and his colleagues speculate that perhaps referees’ initial foul decisions are made relatively automatically, in the heat of unfolding play, thus making them immune to social pressure from the home crowd. In contrast, after play has halted, the referee has time to decide on the severity of the infringement and here the noise of the crowd may sway their thinking – indeed, they may even, without realising they are doing it, use the noise of the crowd as a cue for the seriousness of the foul. This would inevitably bias their decisions against the away team because of the noisy protests of the larger home crowd whenever one of their players was the victim of a foul.

An important caveat is that although the study took account of the number of fouls made by each team, the researchers don’t have any objective measure (beyond the referees’ card decisions) of the actual seriousness of the fouls committed. It’s possible that away teams tend to commit more serious fouls than home teams, which if true would undermine the results.

Notwithstanding this possibility, the researchers said their results suggest that local supporters can influence referee decisions after a foul has been called. “One recommendation for supporters is that they should exert more social pressure in the moments immediately after a referee indicates that the away team has committed a foul,” they said. Meanwhile, they recommended that referee training incorporate lessons on how to ignore irrelevant cues, such as crowd noise.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Picazo-Tadeo, A., González-Gómez, F., & Guardiola, J. (2016). Does the crowd matter in refereeing decisions? Evidence from Spanish soccer International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 1-13 DOI: 10.1080/1612197X.2015.1126852

–further reading
Football fouls more likely to be given when play heads left
Race and foul judgments in football – it’s not black and white

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Professional footballers have unusually high self-control

There are reasons for doubting the self-control of professional footballers. Most week’s – most days, in fact – there are tabloid stories about the latest indiscretions of Premier League players, at least in the UK. But perhaps this is an unfair test. What often goes unreported is their years of dedication to practice, dieting, fitness and more practice.

Tynke Toering and Geir Jordet surveyed 314 premier league players and 305 second league players (all male). The country where this took place is redacted from the journal text. But the authors are based in Norway and they describe both leagues as having 16 teams, which points to their home nation as the likely context for this research.

The researchers used the 13-item “Brief Self-Control Scale”, which includes agree/disagree statements like “I have a hard time breaking bad habits” and “I am able to work effectively on long-term goals.” The scale measures two key aspects of self-control: “restraint” (related to long-term learning and development) and “impulse control” (related to long-term goals, emotional control and a focus on what one can control).

Overall, the professional footballers reported higher average self-control than has been found when the general public complete this scale. Players who said they had more restraint also reported more time spent on practice, more sleep, less TV; those with more impulse control said they did more homework drills, and spent less time gaming and with friends.

The footballers were of course rating themselves, which may raise doubts, but the results become more convincing when you consider that scores on the survey correlated with performance. That is, players who made the national team tended to report higher impulse control scores. And a league team’s averaged restraint scores measured at the start of the season were associated with the team’s end-of-season ranking (more players with higher self-reported restraint went together with a higher league place for the team).

One issue with interpreting these results is that it’s possible the source of the players’ discipline was not their own self-control, but the training regimen of their club and the influence of their coaches. In turn, these same factors could be causally responsible for player and club success.

Past research has already shown the benefits of self-control – for example, at least one study with children found that self-control was a better predictor of later academic success than IQ. This new study’s limitations aside, it shows the benefits of self-control in a new, elite context. “It seems recommendable for youth academies to develop young (i.e. not yet professional) players’ self-control,” the researchers said. “This can be done through establishing good habits, such as eating and sleeping well, and coming early to practice.”

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Toering, T., & Jordet, G. (2015). Self-Control in Professional Football Players Journal of Applied Sport Psychology DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2015.1010047

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Is it worth hiring David Beckham to promote your brand? A psychological test

He’s probably the most famous man on the planet, but the problem is there’s no chance of exclusivity. Beckham already endorses a string of products from the Emporio Armani fashion label to Burger King. So is it worth hiring him to endorse your product?

One way to answer this question is to look at the psychology behind the way people associate brands and celebrities in memory. If you pay Beckham to endorse your product in an ad, then you’d probably like to think that people who view the ad will, in the future, see Beckham in the paper or on TV and then think of your product. But how do you know that seeing him won’t lead customers to think of the other brands he endorses (Armani, Burger King, Gillette, Sharpie, H&M, Samsung, Adidas or Pepsi), rather than yours? This is the question that Katie Kelting and Dan Rice have addressed in their new study.

The researchers predicted that a key factor would be the degree of fit between Beckham and the products he endorses. They presented 235 undergrad students with 8 magazine style adverts. Six of these were fillers and included non-celebrity ads for an SUV and a brand of dog food. Two of the ads were critical to the study. One was the “target ad” showing Beckham alongside a digital camera (you could imagine this is the product we’ve hired him to promote). The other ad showed Beckham endorsing one of his other clients. Crucially, this “interfering ad” came in one of three versions. Some students saw Beckham endorsing an energy drink (a strong fit seeing as he’s a retired footballer); others saw him endorsing an MP3 player (a moderate fit); and others saw him endorsing a baseball bat (a weak fit).

Next, the students were distracted by a six-minute maths task. Finally came the crucial test. The students were asked to think back to the adverts they’d viewed a little earlier, shown a picture of Beckham, then asked to name the product he had endorsed earlier. Would they name the digital camera in the target ad?

As Kelting and Rice predicted, it all depended on the degree of fit between Beckham and the other brand he’d promoted. Among students who saw Beckham promoting the camera and an MP3 player (both deemed to be of moderate fit with Beckham’s image), 88 per cent recalled that he’d endorsed the camera. By contrast, for those who saw Beckham promoting the camera and either the energy drink or the baseball bat, far fewer recalled that he had endorsed the camera (59 per cent and 57 per cent, respectively). In other words, brands that had either a strong or weak connection with Beckham seemed to have a more powerful interfering effect on people’s memory for the target brand*.

This interpretation was supported by further analysis. Focusing instead on participants’ recall of the interfering brands, their recollection was stronger for the energy drinks and baseball bat than for the MP3 players. Comparing levels of recall for the interfering brands and the target brand (the camera), recall was again higher for the energy drinks and baseball bat. “A brand sharing either a high or low match with the celebrity endorser will win the battle of activation and retrieval over a brand that only has a moderate match with the celebrity endorser,” the researchers said.

With so many celebrities today endorsing multiple products, Kelting and Rice said their results have real-world implications for the marketing industry. On this point, one further finding is worth mentioning. The researchers also looked at attitudes towards the different ads, which is one of the most common ways that adverts are assessed in marketing. Attitudes were least positive for the ad showing Beckham endorsing a baseball bat. In a real-life situation, a marketing expert might assume that this ad is therefore not much of a threat to Beckham’s other endorsements. But in fact, as we’ve seen, this ad was one of the most memorable and interfering precisely because of the poor fit between Beckham’s profile and the product. “Making strategic decisions without considering the impact that other brands in a portfolio may have on recall could lead to suboptimal decision making,” the researchers said.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Katie Kelting, and Dan Hamilton Rice (2013). Should We Hire David Beckham to Endorse our Brand? Contextual Interference and Consumer Memory for Brands in a Celebrity’s Endorsement Portfolio. Psychology and Marketing DOI: 10.1037/e621072012-150

*note that these memory and interference effects were found only for cued recall (after prompting with a picture of Beckham), not in another part of the study in which participants engaged in free recall without any prompts.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Eye-movement training helps penalty-takers in football feel more in control

One-on-one – the kicker must get the ball past the goal keeper

Ties in international football tournaments are decided by penalties, in which a series of kickers attempt to get the ball past the keeper in a one-on-one situation. It’s a high stress situation and missing a penalty is the low point of many a career.

Some coaches believe it’s impossible to recreate the pressure of the penalty situation. England manager Glenn Hoddle in 1998 admitted his team hadn’t practiced because it was a waste of time. The last manager, Fabio Capello, described penalties as a “lottery.” Psychologists would beg to differ.

Research by Greg Wood and Mark Wilson at the University of Exeter shows that penalty takers have more success when they shoot for either of the top two corners of the goal, and more importantly, that accuracy is improved when the kicker focuses for a moment on the spot they want to hit. Where the eyes look, the ball tends to go (video) and the pause is thought to allow pre-programming of the kick to occur. This may sound obvious, but many penalty takers often focus on the goalkeeper, rather than on their intended target.

Now in their latest research into what’s known as “the Quiet Eye” method, Wood and Wilson have tested whether, as well as linking the visual and motor systems, the training has a psychological benefit too, helping strikers feel more in control, thus preventing them from choking in a high-pressure situation.

Twenty university-level football players were split into two groups. One group underwent Quiet Eye training for three weeks, taking 10 kicks a week, each time calling out the corner they were aiming for, staring momentarily at their target (for about a second), and then beginning their run up and executing the kick. The other group merely practised the same number of kicks each week (the only advice they received was to aim for the top corners of the goal). All participants wore an eye-tracker while training and the same goalkeeper was used throughout.

Next there was a “retention week” when the players filled-out psych questionnaires after practising the same approach to penalty kicks as before. Then the following week a competitive penalty shoot-out between the two groups provided the crucial test. A £100 prize for the best team helped ramp up the stress levels, and a new goal keeper arrived and was described to them as a specialist at saving penalties. Eye-movements were recorded throughout and more psych questionnaires completed.

The researchers were particularly interested in the players’ feelings of control, their expectations of success, and confidence in coping with pressure. The key finding is that all groups showed increases in these measures during the “retention week”, but only the Quiet Eye group exhibited these benefits in the competitive situation. Moreover, increases in these feelings of control correlated with the aiming behaviour that Quiet Eye training encourages. The more the players focused on their target, the more in control they felt. Although these feelings of control didn’t correlate with performance, only the Quiet Eye training group showed improvements in performance during the competitive situation compared with baseline.

The study has its limitations, as the authors acknowledged. For example, it’s possible the Quiet Eye training led to more feelings of control and confidence under pressure simply because it was a more detailed training format than the simple practise routines that the other group went through. Also, the Quiet Eye group didn’t actually report less anxiety than the other group (that said, the eye movement training increased feelings of control, and players who felt more in control generally felt less anxious). Finally, can we be sure that the Quiet-Eye group’s calling out of their targets during training didn’t play any part in their later feelings of control?

These issues notwithstanding, the researchers concluded: “the results of this study show that the benefits of Quiet Eye-training transcend visuomotor control adaptations, and can have a positive impact on the control beliefs of the performer.”

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Greg Wood, and Mark R. Wilson (2012). Quiet-eye training, perceived control and performing under pressure. Psychology of Sport and Exercise DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2012.05.003

-Further reading-
Don’t jump! Advice for goalkeepers from economic psychology
How to practise penalty shoot-outs

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

Race and foul judgments in football – it’s not black and white

Racism continues to cast its ugly shadow over football. As the European Football Championships kick-off today, the British government has advised fans of Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent to “take extra care” when in Ukraine, host nation with Poland. Meanwhile, England defender and ex-captain John Terry awaits his trial for alleged racism. Against this background, a team of Swiss psychologists has just published a preliminary investigation into the potential effect of racial prejudice on fans’, players’ and referees’ judgements about the severity of fouls by Black and White players.

Pascal Gygax and his colleagues presented 43 White football players, 17 White referees and 22 White football fans with 64 challenge sequences created with the Xbox 360 console game Fifa 2005. Each sequence featured one player tackling another, and the clips had been rated by independent judges as ambiguous as regards the legality of the challenge. Players in the clips were White or Black and wore either green or white shirts. After watching each clip (between one and two minutes in length), the participants had to say whether a foul had been committed, and if so, rate its severity.

Based on previous evidence of racial prejudice towards Black athletes, the researchers anticipated that challenges by Black players would be judged harshly, particularly if they were challenges against a White player. Although the results did uncover evidence that race affects people’s judgements of fouls, the pattern of results was complicated.

There were signs the participants were sensitive to the risk of appearing biased, in that they were less likely to judge a foul had occurred whenever a sequence involved two players of different skin colour. Referees specifically were less likely to judge that a foul had occurred when a challenge was by a Black player. Paradoxically, participants overall were quicker to decide that a foul had occurred when a challenge was by a Black player, possibly because they harboured implicit expectations that Black players will be more likely to commit fouls.

When it came to the severity ratings, there was evidence for bias against White players – fouls by them were always judged as more serious, perhaps a consequence of compensatory efforts by the participants to appear non-biased. On the other hand, challenges on Black players were rated as less severe than challenges on White players, perhaps indicative of prejudice by the White participants.

“In essence,” the researchers explained, “participants have conflicting sources of information which result in differential treatments of White and Black players, at times discriminatory to Black players, and at times to White players.” An alternative, more pessimistic explanation put forward by Gygax and his team is that the participants expected Black players to be more aggressive and so raised the threshold for what they considered to be severe when judging their challenges.

The researchers acknowledged the limitations of their study – most obviously that they’d relied on video game clips rather than real-life footage. However, they said they’d uncovered evidence of discrimination in the judgement of football challenges, and that crucially, “those were not always against Black players: thus, differentiation judgments in soccer based on skin colour may not be a black or white judgment.”

 _________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org


WAGNER-EGGER, P., GYGAX, P., and RIBORDY, F. (2012). RACISM IN SOCCER? PERCEPTION OF CHALLENGES OF BLACK AND WHITE PLAYERS BY WHITE REFEREES, SOCCER PLAYERS, AND FANS. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 114 (1), 275-289 DOI: 10.2466/05.07.17.PMS.114.1.275-289

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

What your choice of best ever footballer says about human memory

Cruijff – the best ever player?

Ask a friend to name the best ever footballer and they’re likely to pick someone who was mid-career when they (your friend) was aged around 17. That’s according to a new investigation into the “reminiscence bump”. This term describes the fact that when you ask people to name the most memorable events in their lives, they tend to refer to things that happened to them in their teens and early twenties. Recently it’s been shown that a similar effect occurs when you ask people to name their favourite music, books and films, with them tending to pick out content from their youth. Now David Rubin and his colleagues have extended this line of research to people’s judgement of the best footballers of all time.

Six hundred and nineteen people (aged 16 to 80) took part in the study online, conducted in Dutch and hosted on the website of the University of Amsterdam. Participants were presented with the names of 190 all-time leading football players and asked to name their judgement of the five best players of all time. They could either select from the list or choose their own.

The researchers calculated the mid-career point of the 172 players named by the participants and compared this against the participants’ age at that time. Participants overwhelming tended to name players whose career mid-point coincided with participants’ teens and early twenties. The modal age (i.e. the most common) of the participants at their chosen players’ mid-career was 17 years. The researchers said this was the most appropriate statistic to use because the average (22 years) and median (20 years) stats are more susceptible to the bias to name currently active players.

Another way of reporting the results is to say that participants recalled more players who were mid-career in the second decade of the participants’ lives than ones who were mid-career in the participants’ third decade. And they named more players from the period in which they were aged 11 to 30 than from the period in which they were aged 1 to 10 or aged 31 to 40.

Focusing on the most frequently chosen players, Johan Cruijff was most often selected by participants who were aged 9 to 18 when he was at his career midpoint; Pelé was most often selected by participants who were aged between 12 and 21 years when he was mid-career. Incidentally, currently active players who made the list of twenty most frequently chosen players were: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and David Beckham (go Becks!). Only the youngest cohort (born between 1986 to 1995) chose more players who were mid-career in 2000s than players who were mid-career in the 90s.

“The results of this study are another example of the robustness of the reminiscence bump phenomenon,” the researchers said.

Several theories have been put forward to explain the reminiscence bump, including that our memories are more efficient in our teens and twenties. Others think it’s because more novel things happen to us at that time of life, such as our first kiss or first job, causing them to get lodged in memory. Rubin and his team say their findings are inconsistent with this “cognitive account”, as it’s known, because children typically start to play and follow football between the ages of 5 and 15, so if the cognitive account were true you’d think they’d pick players who were mid-career at that time.
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ResearchBlogging.orgJanssen, S., Rubin, D., and Conway, M. (2011). The reminiscence bump in the temporal distribution of the best football players of all time: Pelé, Cruijff or Maradona? The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1-14 DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2011.606372

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

Football fouls more likely to be given when play heads left

A simple perceptual bias could influence football referees’ judgements about whether a foul occurred or not. That’s according to Alexander Kranjec and colleagues, who had 12 football players at the University of Pennsylvania look for half a second each at 268 static images of one player tackling another and decide whether a foul had been committed. Unbeknown to the participants, 134 of the pictures were simply mirror opposites of the other 134.

The key finding was that more fouls (66.5 vs. 63.3 – a statistically significant difference) were judged to have occurred when assessing the images in which movement was captured in a leftward direction than when assessing the same images mirror-reversed and therefore featuring implied rightward motion. The researchers think this anomaly may have to do with our bias (at least in cultures that read from left to right) for rightward motion. Motion from right to left is perceived as less natural and this may be responsible for influencing judgements about fouls during play in that direction. Apparently film directors exploit this same bias by having villains arrive on-screen from the right.

Kranjec’s team said their finding has implications for refereeing. The most popular system, known as the ‘left diagonal refereeing system’ (see picture), in which the referee runs a diagonal axis between the two left-hand corners of the pitch, results in the referee witnessing tackles in both goal areas primarily from a right-to-left perspective, thus making judgments of fouls in these areas more likely – an advantage to attackers. This is okay because it applies to both teams. What’s important, Kranjec and colleagues warn, is that the referee doesn’t switch to a ‘right diagonal system’ half-way through a match, potentially penalising a losing side that needs to attack yet no longer enjoys the benefits of this perceptual bias when playing in offensive areas.

‘These results … suggest that the effects of a low-level perceptual mechanisms could alter a decision, change the result of a game and perhaps, the fortunes of nations,’ the researchers said.
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ResearchBlogging.orgKranjec A, Lehet M, Bromberger B, & Chatterjee A (2010). A sinister bias for calling fouls in soccer. PloS one, 5 (7) PMID: 20628648

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Hosting a major sporting event – economic gains are unlikely, but will it bring happiness?

The football World Cup in South Africa is almost upon us and the clock is ticking down on London 2012. It’s a timely moment to ask: why, when it costs a country billions of pounds to host a major international sporting event, do they bother?

The usual argument is that it’s all about the legacy – the lasting economic benefit. But according to two economists, Georgios Kavetsos and Stefan Szymanski, the evidence for this simply isn’t there. For example, there’s research showing that the economic benefit of sports-related investment is lower than for other types of investment. And the newly-created employment opportunities associated with sport are most often low-skilled and casual. Now Kavetsos and Szymanski have tested an alternative explanation for the political appeal of big sports events: perhaps they make the population happier.

Increasingly, governments are also choosing to invest huge quantities of public money in training athletes so as to boost their country’s chances of sporting success. The usual justification is that sports success is good for a country’s well being and national pride. Kavestsos and Szymanski also tested this claim.

The researchers mined the Eurobarometer Survey series, involving 12 European nations, including the UK, between the years 1974 to 2004. Twice a year, a random selection of 1000 people per country were interviewed and one of the questions was about their life satisfaction. Kavestsos and Szymanski looked for any changes in average life satisfaction scores in surveys that took place in the Autumn following the Olympics, Football World Cup or European Cup. Specifically, they wanted to know if a country doing better than expected in a competition had any beneficial effect on average life satisfaction and/or whether hosting a competition had any benefits (the data available meant the latter question was restricted to the hosting of football events).

There was very little evidence that performing better than expected at a sports event had any positive benefit for the average life satisfaction scores of a country’s citizens. The data moved in the right direction but with one exception the effects were not statistically significant. By contrast, there was strong evidence that hosting a major international football event boosted the life satisfaction of a host nation’s citizens. Good news for South Africa.

Just how large was the life satisfaction increase for a typical citizen in a host nation? Kavetsos and Szymanski said it was pretty big: three times the size of the happiness boost associated with gaining a higher education; one and half times the happiness boost associated with getting married; and nearly large enough to offset the misery triggered by divorce.

Is there a catch? Unfortunately, yes. By one year after the event, the benefits had gone, so the effects on people’s happiness were extremely short-lived (the effects of marriage on happiness, by contrast, are long-lasting). There was also no evidence of a host country’s happiness being boosted in anticipation of hosting an event.

‘Most politicians calculate that hosting events can only enhance their political standing,’ Kavetsos and Szymanski said. ‘This makes sense if the benefits of hosting are not derived through economic gains [which the research says don’t exist], but through the feelgood factor, specifically associated with being the host.’
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Kavetsos, G., & Szymanski, S. (2010). National well-being and international sports events. Journal of Economic Psychology, 31 (2), 158-171 DOI: 10.1016/j.joep.2009.11.005

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Want to predict a footie result? Don’t even think about it

Imagine you’ve just paid an expert good money for their verdict and they say to you: “Can you hang on a couple of minutes whilst I don’t think about this”. You’d be forgiven for thinking they’ve gone silly. They may have. But another possibility is that you’ve chosen a shrewd expert who’s totally up-to-speed with the latest decision-making research: Ap Dijksterhuis and his colleagues have just shown that people with expertise in football are better at predicting match outcomes when they spend time not consciously thinking about their predictions.

In an initial experiment, 352 Dutch undergrads were divided into football experts and non-experts, based on their self-ratings, and they were all asked to make predictions (home or away win, or draw) about four forthcoming football matches in the top Dutch league – the Eredivisie. The students were shown the four pairs of competing teams for twenty seconds, and then one third of them were asked to make immediate predictions; one third were asked to think consciously for two minutes before making their predictions; and a final third engaged in a distracting, numerical memory task for two minutes before making their predictions.

For the non-experts, it didn’t make any difference to their success whether or not they were able to spend time considering their predictions – they were correct between forty and fifty per cent of the time regardless. By contrast, the experts’ predictions were significantly more accurate when they were distracted for two minutes, compared with when they made an instant or a considered prediction (approx 60 vs. 50 per cent accuracy). In other words, the experts were most accurate when they spent time not consciously thinking about the problem at hand.

This may seem bizarre but it’s entirely consistent with Dijksterhuis’s Unconscious Thought Theory and with the folk wisdom that says it’s a good idea to sleep on a problem. According to Dijksterhuis’s theory, the subconscious is sometimes less prone to the biases that afflict the conscious mind, thus ensuring that an expert gives due weight to the most important factors.

This was borne out in a second experiment, much like the first, in which students predicted the outcomes of World Cup football matches. Again, distracted experts made the most accurate predictions. This time, however, the researchers also asked participants to estimate the teams’ world rankings – apparently this is the most reliable predictor for the outcomes of World Cup matches. For experts who spent time consciously considering their match predictions, there was no correlation between their knowledge of team rankings and their prediction accuracy. By contrast, for the experts who spent time not thinking about their predictions, there was a correlation between their ranking knowledge and predictive accuracy. Not consciously thinking about the problem at hand seemed to ensure that experts paid due attention to the most important factor affecting match outcomes.

The researchers warned that subconscious thought is not always superior to conscious thought. But they concluded: “Our results mean that unconscious thought may well be helpful in more situations than some people currently think.”
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ResearchBlogging.orgDijksterhuis A, Bos MW, van der Leij A, & van Baaren RB (2009). Predicting Soccer Matches After Unconscious and Conscious Thought as a Function of Expertise. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS PMID: 19818044

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.