In his latest Pro Pundits column, former Fantasy Premier League champion Simon March looks at how future decisions can be influenced by past ‘investments’.
We’re at that stage of the season where the decisions we FPL managers are facing are becoming ever more difficult, so I think it’s a good time to consider a cognitive bias that may well be affecting how we make those decisions; ‘sunk cost fallacy’.
A ‘sunk cost’ is essentially any cost that has already been incurred and cannot be retrieved. For example, the £200 I gave those men in a van outside the student union for some dodgy speakers back when I was 18, that money has gone, I can’t get it back. I really should stop thinking about it…
The ‘sunk cost fallacy’ describes the way in which our future decisions are influenced by such past ‘investments’. Now, if we were being entirely rational and logical about things, all future expenditures would be based on maximising future gains but, because of the sunk cost fallacy, we often continue with an endeavour or ‘throw good money after bad’ in order to psychologically justify past decisions.
In FPL, sunk cost fallacy manifests itself in a few different ways, perhaps the most literal of which being when we have a lot of money tied up in a player due to them having increased in price during our ownership. We’re often less inclined to sell such players, even when we probably should, because we are overly influenced by what we’ve already invested.
For example, I, like many, bought Leicester’s Jamie Vardy (£10.0m) when he was much cheaper so I have a lot of money tied up in him right now.
Of course, it’s easy to say in hindsight following his one-pointer and potentially significant injury that I should have transferred him out but, even before this Gameweek, there were objective arguments for doing so.
Vardy’s fixtures weren’t brilliant, his form was seemingly even worse and he looked to be dropping in price. Meanwhile, I could have flipped that investment to purchase Liverpool assets who have great fixtures, largely great form, a Double Gameweek and many of whom will increase in price.
On a purely logical, cost/benefit decision basis, such a move made a lot of sense, and I knew this, but I still didn’t do it, in part, because I didn’t want to lose the money I’d gained from Vardy’s previous price increases. Two other cognitive biases; loss aversion and status quo bias may also have been at play here, but those are for a different article.
Another, more abstract, manifestation of sunk cost fallacy comes from our desire to justify past decisions, often to our detriment. For example, in Gameweek 22, I was faced with using or losing one of my two free transfers so, with extreme reluctance, I sold Watford’s Ben Foster (£4.9m) and bought in West Ham’s Lukasz Fabianski (£4.9m).
Of course, Fabianski was infamously injured after 14 minutes, thus scoring one point, while Foster, naturally, scored six. Since Fabianski was my only playing goalkeeper, I was then forced to use yet another transfer to make up for the transfer that, you recall, I didn’t want to make in the first place. Foster was still the goalkeeper that I really wanted but did I buy him back? Oh no. I had to mentally ‘justify’ my previous (wrong) transfer and so I made another (wrong) transfer and bought in Southampton’s Alex McCarthy (£4.4m), who scored one point compared to Foster’s nine (…nine!).
Anyway, thank you for coming to my therapy session… wait, sorry, I was writing an article wasn’t I. The moral of this story is that, were I not influenced by sunk cost fallacy, I might have reversed my goalkeeper decision but, instead, I lost out even more because, instead of focusing my decisions on maximising my future potential gains, I made decisions with the intention of trying to justify my past decisions.
Sure, maybe I’m being a little hard on myself and these decisions may still pay off (McCarthy kept a clean sheet in Gameweek 24) but, you know, I’m trying to make a point here… and that point is; while it’s hard to accept when you’ve been wrong, it’s even harder to later accept being wrong multiple times in an effort to mentally ‘correct’ past wrong decisions which, by virtue of being in the past, physically cannot be corrected.
Sunk cost fallacy is a pretty deep-rooted bias and, as you’ve seen, I still commit it despite being well aware that I’m doing it but, ultimately, FPL only has 38 Gameweeks and every Gameweek counts so we don’t have the luxury of living in the past. Literally, the only thing that matters in this game are the points you score going forward so we’d do well to ensure that we make our decisions on that basis, no matter how loudly our past decisions might continue to echo in our ears.
Simon March is a member of our Pro Pundits initiative, a team of Fantasy managers here to bring you regular advice and updates on their teams. Simon won the FPL title in 2014/15 and has become a fixture on the punditry circuit ever since.
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