Home > Magazine > ChaiTime > Fun Time: TRUST YOUR GUT WITH FOOTBALL AND LIFE



Compiled/partly written by Melvin Durai Email Compiled/partly written by Melvin Durai
March 2020

Do you ever make decisions with your gut? I certainly do. My gut tells me, for example, what types of food to fill it up with. When I go to a buffet, my gut instinct is to eat all the foods that make my gut bigger and completely ignore the salad bar.

My gut also helps me decide what types of clothes to wear. Some pants, for example, are a little too tight for my gut. Unfortunately, my gut doesn’t tell me to exercise. It’s usually my brain that tells me that exercise is good for me, but my gut instinct is to sit on the couch and watch football. This may not be a bad idea, especially if I use my gut to predict the scores of football matches.

A new British study, published in the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, shows that people who rely on gut instincts make better decisions than people who second-guess themselves. My gut tells me that this was quite a gutsy study.

Three British economists looked at how well 150 people predicted the final scores of all 380 football (soccer) matches during the 2017/18 season of the English Premier League. As reported in the Washington Post, the 150 individuals made their predictions through a popular sport betting website, a total of 57,000 predictions.

The users were allowed to change their predictions up to the moment each match began, but only 6 percent of them did this—second-guessing their initial predictions. These users changed 15 of their 380 predictions on average, perhaps relying on new information, such as an injury to a top player.

The researchers found that the revised forecasts were accurate 7.7 percent of the time, whereas the unaltered forecasts were accurate 9.3 percent of the time. That may not seem like a big difference, but it means that the revised forecasts were 17 percent less accurate than the unaltered ones. One of the biggest mistakes that second-guessers made was to expect scoring to be higher, changing a final score of 2-1 to 3-2, for example. It’s almost as if they hadn’t watched football regularly. If they had, they would have realized that the best score to predict is a 0-0 draw. (It’s so hard to get the ball into the net, especially since the goalkeeper keeps using his hands. Someone needs to remind him that the game is called “football,” not ‘’handball.”)

As the Post reported, the 150 bettors predicted a scoreless tie only 1.5 percent of the time, but it actually happens 8.4 percent of the time. In other words, there’s a one-tenth chance that spectators who attend an English Premier League match will enjoy a 90-minute nap.

So here’s the lesson for all football bettors: (1) Stick with your initial “gut” prediction; (2) If you must change your prediction, go with zero-zero.

One interesting finding in the study is that bettors who changed their forecast within a few minutes were more accurate than those who made the change after a longer period. This seems to indicate that overthinking or over-analysis is not wise in predicting football matches.

But how does this apply to life in general? Should you rely on your gut, your brain, or even your heart when making important decisions, such as whether to marry the doctor your parents have matched you with or the co-worker who makes your heart beat faster?

While the study doesn’t provide a conclusive answer, what’s clear is that you shouldn’t discount gut feelings and gut instincts, especially if you’re making a gut-wrenching decision.

Compiled and partly written by Indian humorist MELVIN DURAI, author of the novel Bala Takes the Plunge.

[Comments? Contributions? We would love to hear from you about Chai Time. If you have contributions, please email us at melvin@melvindurai.com. We welcome jokes, quotes, online clips, and more.]

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