Why do fans see one thing, when the stats say something else?

You’ve sat in the stand for 90 minutes watching the match and after the final whistle other fans are raving about the stats of a particular player you thought was poor. He’s S***e! Were these people at a different match? Why cant they see what I saw?

The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to a given person’s mind when evaluating a specific topic, concept, method or decision.

It operates on the notion that if something can be recalled, it must be important, or at least more important than alternative solutions which are not as readily recalled.

Subsequently, under the availability heuristic, people tend to heavily weigh their judgments toward more easily recalled information, without making new opinions based on the latest facts.

The easier it is to recall the consequences of something the greater those consequences are often perceived to be. People often rely on the content of their recall if its implications are not called into question by the difficulty that they experience in bringing the relevant material to mind.

Peoples judgment often relies on a limited number of simplifying heuristics rather than extensive algorithmic processing.

People tend to use a readily available fact to base their beliefs about a comparably distant concept.

“One’s judgments are always based on what comes to mind” – For example – if a person is asked whether there are more words in the English language that begin with a t or k, the person will probably be able to think of more words that begin with the letter t, concluding that t is more frequent than k.

Subjects were asked, “If a random word is taken from an English text, is it more likely that the word starts with a K, or that K is the third letter?”

English-speaking people would immediately think of many words that begin with the letter “K” (kangaroo, kitchen, kale), but that it would take a more concentrated effort to think of any words in which “K” is the third letter (acknowledge, ask). Results indicated that participants overestimated the number of words that began with the letter “K” and underestimated the number of words that had “K” as the third letter. The conclusion is that people answer questions like these by comparing the availability of the two categories and assessing how easily they can recall these instances. In other words, it is easier to think of words that begin with “K”, more than words with “K” as the third letter. In reality, however, a typical text contains twice as many words that have “K” as the third letter than “K” as the first letter. There are three times more words with “K” in the third position than words that begin with “K”.

Apart from the findings in the “K” study, it was also found that people particularly struggled when the problems consisted of multiple steps. This occurred because they were basing their estimation on an initial impression. They had failed to account for the high rate of growth in the later steps due to the impression they formed in the initial steps, thus people based their estimates off of what was easily available from memory.

The number of examples recalled from memory is used to infer the frequency with which such instances occur. Although the availability heuristic is effective in a few situations, when judging a probability, use of this heuristic can lead to predictable patterns of errors.

Widespread and extensive coverage of unusual events, such as homicide or airline accidents, and less coverage of more routine, less sensational events, such as common diseases or car accidents influences peoples opinion. For example, when asked to rate the probability of a variety of causes of death, people tend to rate “newsworthy” events as more likely because they can more readily recall an example from memory. Moreover, unusual and vivid events like homicides, shark attacks, or lightning are more often reported in mass media than common and un-sensational causes of death like common diseases.

For example, many people think that the likelihood of dying from shark attacks is greater than that of dying from being hit by falling airplane parts, when more people actually die from falling airplane parts. When a shark attack occurs, the deaths are widely reported in the media whereas deaths as a result of being hit by falling airplane parts are rarely reported in the media.

Consequently, the reliance on the availability heuristic leads to systematic biases.

Another factor that affects the availability heuristic in frequency and probability is exemplars. Exemplars are the typical examples that stand out during the process of recall.

Seeing a shark in the ocean has a greater impact on an individual’s memory than seeing a dolphin. If someone sees both sharks and dolphins in the ocean, they will be less aware of seeing the dolphins, because the dolphins had less of an impact on their memory. Due to the greater impact of seeing a shark, the availability heuristic can influence the probability judgement of the ratio of sharks and dolphins in the water. Thus, an individual who saw both a shark and a dolphin would assume a higher ratio of sharks in the water, even if there are more dolphins in reality.

So, next time you get frustrated at a player playing a backward pass, but dont give a second thought to the three forward passes he made previously – remember – its just your personal, irrational frustration at the pass rather than the player being S***e!


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