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02.09.2019

Betting School #1: 8 bizarre sports betting psychology facts

Why do some punters consistently win over time?

It’s not because they have secret information. Thanks to the World Wide Web, everyone has access to a vast amount of data online for calculating the likelihood of particular sports outcomes.

The truth is that all of us are hardwired to make wrong betting decisions, even when the evidence to help us make the correct betting decision is right in front of us.

This is because our brains make mental shortcuts called ‘heuristics’, which help us cope with information but prevent us from seeing the world as it really is.

The good news is that these heuristics are used so commonly that they distort the entire sports betting market and that gives a huge advantage to people who understand the psychology behind them.

Successful punters are able to overcome these mental shortcuts so they can analyze data with greater accuracy and spot the betting opportunities that others miss.

Here are the eight most important science-backed sports betting tips that every punter needs to know.

1. You make better decisions when you are hungry.

‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ is the marketing slogan of a certain brand of chocolate bar. Before you reach for their product on the shelf though, you might want to consider this series of research studies revealing that ‘not being you’ is a good thing for gamblers.

The researchers discovered that being hungry actually makes you a better punter!

This may sound counterintuitive as conventional wisdom says that hungry people are grumpier and more impulsive in a quest to satisfy their needs.

However, participants in the studies were able to improve their strategic decision making and make more favorable decisions involving uncertain outcomes just by being hungry. They also discovered that being hungry made participants better able to appreciate the value of future rewards. These skills are fundamental to sports betting.

Save your appetite and eat after you have placed your bets to increase your odds of selecting the right outcome

2. The season distorts your betting decisions.

Seasons are important in sports betting, but not just the ones that your teams are playing in. Believe it or not, the orbit of the Earth around the sun is affecting your sports betting decisions.

Our ancient ancestors were a lot more concerned about the Earth’s seasons than we are today because the onset of winter brought more danger and less food. They adapted to the changing season by living more conservatively and taking less risks.

We may not have those same concerns today, yet our brains are still programmed to avoid risk when the days are shorter.

The evidence is in stock markets around the world, according to a study at the University of Toronto. Across the northern hemisphere, traders further from the equator are more averse to risk in winter and more open to risk in summer.

If the season has that power on the stock market, then consider the implications for the betting market too. You and other punters are likely to be more risk averse in winter, especially when betting on games that are followed further from the equator.

Being aware of this fact can help you spot better sports betting opportunities, as well as help you take a more objective approach to risk no matter what time of year it is.

3. Commitment alters your predictions

A lot can happen before or during a sports game that can alter your predictions about the result.

Although one of those factors has absolutely nothing to do with the game however. That’s because the simple act of placing a bet online makes you more likely to think that result will happen.

A clever study approached punters that bet on horse racing to gauge their perceptions before and after placing a bet and found a significant change in their perception, despite the fact that they received no additional information about the race in that time. A similar study by Regan and Kilduff demonstrated the same phenomenon among voters before and after they had entered the ballot box.

This phenomenon is known as the ‘sunk cost fallacy’, although punters would more commonly describe the problem as ‘throwing good money after bad’.

These findings are particularly significant for live bets because it means punters could continue to spend money when the more logical strategy is to quit or hedge their bets.

Only change your mind about the outcome of a result when it is based on new information or better analysis, not your own investment.

4. You ignore evidence that could change your mind

The best punters will have a deep understanding of their games in order to calculate which bets to make. However, once most people form a particular opinion then it can be quite difficult for them to change their mind.

This is known as ‘confirmation bias’ and it produces a similar effect to the sunk cost fallacy, but explains why punters can act in the same way even when new information appears.

The problem is that we seek out evidence that supports our established viewpoint and ignore evidence that contradicts it. There is so much information in the world that it would be difficult for us to function if we had to constantly change our minds based on an honest assessment of available information. Successful punters need to suppress this urge and ensure their predictions are always based on the latest information available.

You should accept that your current predictions may need to change. Continuously use data to make accurate predictions and not just support your previous ones.

5. You take more risks when you are happy.

People experiencing episodes of depression are often told to avoid making important life choices because their decision-making abilities are impaired. It’s wise advice, but it works the other way round too.

In fact, a study found that a wide variety of mood states can distort our decision making and happiness in particular can make us more willing to take risks.

It’s probably wise then to bet responsibly and not place bets when you are surrounded by friends in the pub who have just bought you another drink. Similarly, if you have just won a bet then you might be more likely to place an unwise bet as a result of the elation.

You need to control your emotions or at least take them into account when making decisions. Try to choose your bets when you are in a neutral environment and have a neutral state of mind.

6. You’re prone to the ‘gambler’s fallacy’

This psychological phenomenon is literally named for gamblers, although you might not realize that it’s a problem for punters too.

The gambler’s fallacy is that we tend to look for patterns and then assume they will continue into the future. We do this even when the pattern we have identified is questionable and there is no real reason to assume it will continue.

The most obvious example is in the game of roulette when some gamblers will record the pattern of winning numbers and colors in order to work out which are most and least likely to come next. Some casinos will even hand out scorecards and pens in order to encourage this behavior, but there is absolutely no logic to it because the odds will always be the same regardless of previous patterns.

Sports betting is based on a wider variety of non-random factors so patterns can’t be totally dismissed, but that doesn’t mean that the gambler’s fallacy doesn’t apply here too. For example, if team plays well, but experiences a stroke of bad luck, then there’s little reason to think that bad luck will continue. Similarly, if there are a series of underdog victories from different teams then there is no reason to think another underdog team will win.

Be careful when identifying patterns within a game or a series of games and only treat it as significant if there is a logical reason for why it could continue.

7. You don’t like to lose

If you’ve ever been bungee jumping or dived off a high board then you’ll understand this phenomenon. The platform probably didn’t look that high from the ground, but your perception will be very different when you reach the top, right?

A study reported in New Scientist took volunteers to a building that is 14.4 meters high then asked them to guess the height. People with a fear of heights judged it to be 3 meters higher than it really is from the ground and 12 meters higher than it really is from the top.

Why is that, you ask?

Well, heights can be dangerous so our brain is wired to protect us from risk by making it look higher (and scarier) than it is in reality. This is a form of loss aversion and it affects gamblers too.

When betting, losing can also look scarier than it actually is, but the most successful punters actually embrace losing bets because they are more focused on winning more money from outside bets over a longer period of time. In contrast, if you stick to betting on the favorites then you are more like to win more bets, but less likely to win more money in the long run.

Don’t be afraid to lose bets if you want to succeed at sports betting in the long run.

8. You rate probabilities higher when aspects are fresh in your mind

If you have just booked a vacation to a warm tropical climate, you probably don’t want to watch the news about a storm heading to that location – even if your vacation is several months away!

You know that hearing about it doesn’t mean that the bad weather will still be there when you arrive, but you still can’t help feeling slightly more apprehensive.

This is called the availability bias. You overestimate the significance of things that are already in your mind, usually because you have recently seen or heard about them or they are particularly prominent. This is why advertising is so effective.

This phenomenon is very significant for punters because sports generate an enormous amount of media coverage and passionate debate, which is rarely objective. For example, a sports star might become more famous by marrying a celebrity or taking part in more media opportunities and that can distort people’s perceptions of their performance on the field.

When it comes to live betting, you can bet on a wide variety of factors and will need to calculate the likelihood of them happening a short amount of time. It’s important that you don’t overestimate the odds of something happening because you have recently seen something similar. For example, you might be monitoring lots of games at once and see a goal scored from a corner in one game then make the bet that it will happen in another game.

Be aware that media focus can distort betting markets and your best betting opportunities may not be outcomes that are fresh in your mind.

Conclusion

These sports betting psychology facts are part of who we are as humans so we can’t simply switch them off, but we can understand them and adapt our behavior.

It’s important to recognize that they are not just affecting you, but also every other person you are betting against. That means the entire betting market and the odds on offer are being distorted away from an objective analysis of the likely outcome.

This gives you a significant advantage now that you know the eight most important ways this takes place.

Do you have any sports betting psychology tips to share?

If so, tell us about them on our Facebook page.

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