Confirmation Bias Definition and Does It Affect Your Betting

Ask yourself an honest question. When was the last time that having decided to back one team, you changed your mind at the last minute and backed their opponent because of new information? If this is something you regularly do, then congratulations. But for most of us, psychologically, switching our bet like that is much harder to do than you’d think.

This is because of a psychological tendency that most human beings are vulnerable to, known as Confirmation Bias. It occurs in many different fields of endeavour but is particularly prevalent among punters and can have a significantly negative effect on your profitability.

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What is Confirmation Bias?

Confirmation bias explained

What does Confirmation Bias mean? Essentially, it is the name given to the habit that humans have of sticking to what they already know or to ideas they have already developed, rather than changing their minds in the light of new information. This may have been an important quality hundreds of thousands of years ago, enabling our ancestors to create and stick to reliable rules about the world around them, but it has also led to many problems, tensions and conflicts.

We are pattern-forming creatures, but we don’t like having to remake our patterns, even if there is compelling evidence that we should do so. This is why so many online debates become ever more toxic rather than moving towards increasing mutual knowledge and understanding and why, as we get older, we can become increasingly set in our ways and reluctant to change.

But Confirmation Bias, because it is a subjective phenomenon, can play havoc with any betting strategy. At the heart of successful betting is the ability to make accurate and objective judgements about potential sports outcomes, and this should leave little room for bias and subjectivity.

Conspiracies and Confirmation

If you want to see Confirmation Bias examples, try spending a little time reading conspiracy theories online. Most conspiracy theories start with a minor detail that appears to be out of place or a partially unexplained fact or set of circumstances. In many cases, these are worth examining. But unfortunately, conspiracy theorists have a tendency to jettison their objectivity early on in their investigations. Once they have become invested in an idea about, for example, the moon landings, or 9/11, they begin to consciously or unconsciously seek out information that supports their view, rather than gathering as much information as possible and then weighing and analysing it.

A similar habit is evident in a lot of political discussions. The internet has made it possible for different political groups to inhabit a sealed-off world in which they only read news, comment and analysis that they know in advance is likely to support their existing world view.

The Dangers of Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias dangers

The dangers of Confirmation Bias in politics and our personal lives are obvious, and those dangers are multiplied in the betting world when our profitability depends entirely on our judgement. And sports punters are no more likely to be immune to Confirmation Bias than any other group.

For bettors, Confirmation Bias often coincides with stereotypes about a certain team or individual. A Confirmation Bias example, the Brazilian football team is routinely over-bet because the positive reputation of Brazilian football, informed by the legendary teams that won multiple World Cups in the 1950s and 1960s, outweighs the reality that in recent years, Brazil have not been a dominant force.

Studies from other areas that involve weighing evidence and making investment decisions back up the prevalence of the Confirmation Bias. A few years ago, a detailed study of stock market investors found that they tended to seek out information that confirmed their pre-existing view of a particular stock and that those who demonstrated the strongest evidence of Confirmation Bias made the least successful investments and produced the poorest long-term performance.

And it isn’t just in the choice of your bets that Confirmation Bias can distort your perception. Depending on your personality, you may find that you are more prone to remember your losses or your winners, according to whether you tend towards the pessimistic or the optimistic, using the evidence of these wins and losses to reinforce your existing view that you are a successful or unsuccessful punter; in other words, favouring emotion and instinct over analysis.

Tackling Confirmation Bias

You will never be able to become entirely objective in your betting, but you can minimise the effects of Confirmation Bias. One easy way to do this, after you’ve made up your mind about a particular contest, is to read a wide array of online opinions about the same event. By forcing yourself to seriously consider alternative views, you increase the likelihood that your judgement will be based on all of the evidence, rather than only on evidence that supports your pre-existing view.

Getting to Grips with Value

Sports betting values

Many punters dislike talk of value. They argue that sports betting is about backing winners and nothing else. Of course, if you only ever back losers, you won’t get very far. But in fact, no-one would perform that badly. Even a complete beginner using a coin toss to decide which team to bet on would come up with their share of winners. What matters is the price you back those teams at.

Punters who go to the trouble of regularly pricing up the events they are considering a bet in, are less vulnerable to Confirmation Bias. By investing time in allocating a price to every outcome, you are not approaching an event with a pre-existing bet in mind. Instead, punters who take this approach simply compare their prices to the available odds and bet where they think the price is too big. Even if they have a rough idea of which team they might bet on before they draw up the odds, they have to be prepared to change their mind if the odds available on their favoured team don’t offer value.

Sifting the Facts

Simply by being aware of the possibility of Confirmation Bias, you can become more alert to the risks of this habit and improve your betting performance. Ultimately, the key to sports betting is to be as objective as you can. To paraphrase the great economist, John Maynard Keynes, when the facts change, you should be prepared to change your mind. Get used to betting on the basis of analysis rather than intuition, and you will insulate yourself to a greater extent against Confirmation Bias.

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