A Detailed Look into the Sports Betting Psychology



Halo Effect in Sports Betting

A large number of sports bettors bet intuitively. You’ll see them time and again relying on how they feel about a particular player or a team, apart from what they know about them/him/her, in order to make some spontaneous on the spot assessments of their winning chances. Although intuition may be a very reliable means of instantly figuring out if someone is happy or angry with you, you can’t use it with equal effectiveness when it comes to probability -related judgements! One of the reasons for this is the Halo Effect!

About the Halo effect
Let’s go over the characteristics of couple of interesting characters and judge whom do you prefer? – Steve or Mark?

Steve is: Hard Working | Intelligent | Critical | Impulsive | Envious | Stubborn
Mark is: Stubborn | Envious | Impulsive | Critical | Intelligent | Hard Working


Going by the above descriptions, a large majority of people may be left with a more favourable impressions of Steve than Mark, which is strange considering the fact that both of them have the same characteristics, which are listed in reverse order.
Rather than acknowledging that the difference between both of their characteristics is only that they’re presented in a reverse order, the lazy side of our brain, normally referred to as System 1, looks for evaluation consistency, so as to be able to quickly create a coherent narrative for itself.
So, when we look at the initial positive trait of Steve, that he is a hard-working person, it somehow urges us to interpret his latter traits in manner that they support our view. The same is also true in case of the stubborn Mark! This specific effect is popularly referred to as the Halo effect.
However, you may ask what does this effect has to do with the field of sports betting? Let’s make slight changes to this example and replace these two fictitious men with couple of tennis players or football teams, along with their performance results (like the character descriptions of these two men).
You’ll notice how our betting judgements can get biased based on the order in which the information is provided to or acquired by us, as well as the significance of specific performances.
Please keep in mind that such type of bias is not isolated, as people are susceptible to availability heuristic too, which brings us to give higher disproportional significance to various ideas or events which are easy to recall. The availability of anything is greatly linked to how strongly we emotionally respond to certain events, which becomes greater whenever those events have a lasting impression on us, for instance, some five set classic tennis matches, nailbiting cricket finishes, high-scoring football games etc.
Let’s go over some examples of sports betting wherein this knowledge of availability heuristic and Halo effect can be applied as well as witnessed.

About the Brazilian football team
When you look at the Brazilian national football team, it is viewed with great reverence, that sets it apart from the football teams of all other nations. It is held in very high esteem by the general populace as well as the entire sports betting fraternity. Hence, it always receives a truly objective appraisal considering the out of proportion way it is viewed as. No one can deny the fact that Brazil has won more world cups than any other national team, however, their five World Cup victories came in two very distinct time periods, that is from 1958 to 1970 and then from 1994 to 2002. Furthermore, they have failed to reach the World Cup finals in their last three appearances in World Cup.
The golden age of Brazilian football can be attributed to the likes of Pele, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto etc. who were all legends in their own right! The presence of all those stars in that period of Brazilian football created a sort of Halo around their team, which skewed the perception of all the Brazilian teams that followed. This is repeatedly confirmed by the availability bias resulting from easy recollection of all those regularly aired wonder goals, especially the ones that were scored in the 1970 Mexico World Cup.
Although younger generations may not be too familiar with the events that happened more than 40 years ago, the sports media continues to force a confirmation bias or idea by constantly hammering home the view that each and every Brazilian player is super skilled in his own right. Such consistency of evaluation results in a coherent narrative that all Brazilian players are naturally skilful just because Brazil has always produced some of the most skilful players in the football world.
Quite interestingly, the way Brazilian team was eliminated by Germany in the 2014 World Cup, where they were hosts and favourites to take the title, their humbling 7 - 1 loss to the eventual tournament winners Germany, may be sufficient to smash that historical halo that has always been place around them, or perhaps dim it a slight bit at least!
At the risk of upsetting a large number of football enthusiasts, Liverpool FC is yet another team that carries a halo around it. Nothing denying it has successfully won 11 league titles from the year 1973 to 1990, you cannot really term the teams that came after that era to be having the same kind of potential. This halo effect around Liverpool football club can result in sports bettors’ overvaluing the new age Liverpool sides, who have nothing in common with those historically great teams apart from the team name.
This halo effect can also be used for understanding the disproportionate amount of credit which is given to popular ex-football players when they take up team management positions. There is no statistical or historical evidence which proves that being an excellent football player automatically makes one an excellent manager as well. Mark Hughes was an excellent football player at Chelsea and Manchester United, so when he took on a management position, people started having the same kind of expectations from him as they used to when he was a player. This halo created because of the playing exploits of many ex-footballers results in several sports bettors, fans and clubs to have more than realistic expectations from those individuals, whenever they’d pick-up and/or train a football team. This particular subject gained a lot of significance and exposure owing to the book titled Moneyball, and later because of the film with the same name.

The reverse halo effect
Please keep in mind that the halo effect may sometimes also have a reverse effect. If it’s a broken sign that serves as the first impression of a particular Holiday Hotel, it can create a negative context for you, thereby biasing all subsequent judgements related to your stay. When it comes to sports betting, a super bad performance can lead to such disproportionately biased future assessments.
Rory McIlroy after giving away a four shot lead as he went into the final round of 2011 US Masters, started getting labelled as a choker by various newspapers, media and publishers. Before the tournament began, he was in fact being touted as one of the rising stars of the sport, however, one disastrous round of 80 was all that anyone could remember of the young golfer thereafter, all courtesy the availability heuristic. He started getting perceived pretty differently in various sports betting circles. Any sports bettor having a long-term view would have taken a more rounded judgement of the situation and scored pretty well two months later when Rory won the U.S. Open title fairly easily with a lead of eight shots. Thereafter in the year 2012, he scored his second major victory in – The US PGA championship.
If all these events had happened in the reverse order, that he had won two majors and then collapsed in the final round of US Masters, his future performances would have been assessed quite differently in a far more forgiving way. This was later confirmed when McIlroy walked off the golf course halfway into the second round at Honda Classic, faring pretty badly at 7 over par, citing bad mental state as the reason. The halo created as a result of his major successes was responsible for tempering the opinions of sports bettors, with regard to Rory’s chances of scoring future successes.

Important lessons in this
Human mind is highly intuitive and is thus extremely powerful and valuable. It can often save precious lives as it knows how to effectively perceive danger. However, its real weaknesses get exposed at the time of making statistical assessments. The trick here is to somehow force our overenthusiastic mind into action (system 2). Therefore, it’s extremely important that before you make any betting choices you:
– Take a deliberate look into the situation and try to seek the three counterarguments, as against your face value assessment.
– Use as much objective data as possible with the biggest possible sample size.
– Don’t pay heed to any of the mainstream media that is often responsible for seeding simplistic narratives.

Sports bettors who are well aware of the psychological aspects such as the halo effect may although feel inspired and actively share their newly acquired knowledge with others, it doesn’t imply that they themselves would never fall prey to the tendency of placing halos on various teams or sportsmen, themselves. The test is not if you’ve learned something new, but if your understanding of it has resulted in you responding in an evolved manner to various sports betting situations.