When was the last time you decided to bet on a team, but found new information and decided to back their opponent? If you don’t do this very often, it could be because you’ve become a victim of “confirmation bias”, a phenomenon that can harm your betting.
The theory behind confirmation bias is a simple one: humans prefer to stick to what they know, rather than change their opinions based on new evidence. Instead of objectively analysing new information we discover, we instinctively pay attention to certain sources and disregard others that challenge our existing conceptions.
Obviously this is negative for bettors, as any increase in subjectivity can move people away from the most accurate prediction of outcomes. But how can we ignore our inherent confirmation bias?
Google has provided a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the power of confirmation bias. Pick one of the following conspiracy theories that you disagree with:
- We never landed on the moon.
- Aliens are kept in Area 51
- 9/11 was an inside job
Now take one theory and search it in Google. You’ll find millions of results logically discussing an objectively very suspect theory. The second result for Moon landings is titled “100% proof we never walked on the Moon”. Result two for aliens offers a huge list of reasons why aliens might be at Area 51, while 9/11 has “Facts Proving 9/11 Was An INSIDE JOB”.
The chances are that none of the webpages you’ve just looked at have changed your views, despite the vast number of them. Of course, in this case that could be considered sensible, but it shows that despite 32 million results (in the case of 9/11), pre-set opinions are difficult to change.
"Humans prefer to stick to what they know, rather than change their opinions based on new evidence"
The same occurrence happens when investigating teams for betting. A person’s current beliefs are reinforced by information they find, but when counteractive evidence is presented, it is ignored. For example, most people consider Brazil an excellent team, despite winning just 54.3% from 36 games prior to the 2013 Confederations Cup.
This was studied in a field similar to betting – online stock market investing. A study by Park et al., 2010 showed that investors gathered information about a prospective stock by looking for information that confirmed their existing opinions about a particular stock. The traders who experienced the strongest confirmation bias made the least money.
Bias also extends to tracking your own betting success. Because we all want to believe we’re doing well, we’re prone to bias our performance, and remember our wins much more strongly than our losses, even if this isn’t the case.
How to stop confirmation bias
To help alleviate the effect of confirmation bias, try to objectively and logically experience countering points of view. This sounds easy, but as we proved with the conspiracies, objectively investigating a countering argument is difficult.
Even if you can’t become 100% objective (and no-one can), becoming better at appreciating well-informed points of view that differ from your own beliefs will make you a savvier bettor.
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