A Detailed Look into the Sports Betting Psychology



Illusion of Control in Sports Betting

People normally have a tendency of misinterpreting a certain sense of control when they’re put in situations which are inherently unpredictable, uncontrollable or random in nature. Such illusion is all the more prevalent in gambling-related situations, and hence it’s imperative for all sports bettors to understand it and guard against it at all times. Let’s discover how.

The need for having control – About Skinner and superstitious pigeons
It’s a natural human tendency to see causality and to find correlations even when none exist; and we often struggle to view events as being independent of each other. Our ancestors had a very limited understanding of mechanics behind harsh environments. As a result, they desperately tried finding consequences or causes of actions related to events which were either too complicated to understand or were completely random in nature. Slowly rituals and superstitions emerged as means to provide them with a sense of control. These practices are prevalent even today in some parts of the world.
Several fascinating experiments have been carried out which clearly illustrate this behaviour even among the animal kingdom, the most popular one being that of BF Skinner, the Harvard Psychologist.
In the year 1948, Skinner carried out an experiment wherein he introduced food hoppers at different time intervals to a pigeon placed in a cage. This pigeon had zero influence over the feeding frequency, but the behaviour it seemed to be displaying at the time of introduction of the food, for instance turning, nodding head, became conditioned as being responsible for its feeding. Every pigeon develops its unique ritual which it believes to be responsible for triggering the reward.
This is also applicable to humans who associate a certain sense of control when it comes to different rituals, for instance avoiding walking under ladders, avoiding black cats etc. As mentioned earlier, all these superstitions exist even today.
Skinner’s discoveries led to the definition of what he named as Operant Conditioning - responses which are punished, reinforced or had some sort of neutral impact on the subject’s behaviour. Personal choice has a major influence on the reinforcement, casino games being an excellent example of it.

Personal choice influence – The willingness to throw the dice
Although a good majority of casino games are absolutely random in nature, gamblers often display a sort of irrational belief thinking they have control over the outcomes, and that they can make personal choices in that regard.
You can see a clear illustration of this tendency in gamblers when they get the chance of spinning the roulette wheel or throwing the dice in craps. In both these cases, these gamblers demonstrate a sort of irrational belief that they have control over a random outcome just because they have the freedom of making a personal choice. This is witnessed in proxy situations as well, for instance when gamblers piggyback on bets placed by someone on a winning streak, believing that person to be in control of the situation.
Lotteries are another important illustration of such illusion of control. You will often see players placing great amount of confidence in their potential success when they are playing their own numbers, instead of machine-generated ones. The success chances remain the same as long as the outcome is kept entirely random in nature.
To tell you the truth, random lottery selections actually increase the winning chances owing to commonly used birthdates as numbers. Even though the winning chances remain the same, the likelihood of having to share the prize increases with selections getting skewed towards numbers ranging from 1 to 31, thereby decreasing the possible payout.
When it comes to casino-related examples, behaviours and patterns which produce success – the involved ritual, how the ball is thrown – will get reinforced, while the ones producing failure may generate some punishment response, decreasing the propensity of them getting repeated.
However, as we can’t simply reduce gambling in life to some narrow definition of failure and success, and their causes, the chances of a rationally reinforcing certain behaviour is pretty high.

Near misses and dangerous info – Beware of back-fitting
It’s highly likely that you may have heard the expression, “Little info is as good as being dangerous info.” This is all the more correct in case of gambling activity wherein a sense of empowerment originating from some knowledge about an event, player, sport or a team results in an exaggerated sense of prediction ability and deep understanding of the situation.
Whenever a gambler experiences unexpected success, he may often back-fit the logic of his choices in order to match what exactly happened, resulting in the kind of reinforcement described above, thus giving him an illusion of control.
It can also be seen in near misses, wherein bettors derive ample encouragement from the ability of almost getting things right, thus reinforcing their behaviour. Hence, they often persist with whatever they believe to be a valid approach, when actually there may not be any valid correlation at all.

Following are some things you must keep in mind to mitigate such effects:
– Never take betting tips at face value
– Accept the fact that you’ve got no control in situations where the outcomes are random in nature
– Learn how to differentiate between noise and signal
– Carry out one by one tests on narrow and clearly defined hypothesis

The key for sports bettors is to stay as disciplined as possible whenever they feel like drawing conclusions from their past betting activities. However, there is no harm in keeping your lucky pants on!