The 2014/15 Fantasy Premier League champion Simon March provides his final thoughts of the season as we head into Gameweek 38 of the campaign.
There was a discussion in the FPL community this week about hindsight bias, what it is and what it means for FPL managers. Looking back, it’s obviously an interesting topic, I don’t know why I didn’t write an article on it before… Oh well, better late than never.
Hindsight, which is to gain an understanding of a situation or event only after it has occurred, is problematic for FPL managers in a number of ways but, perhaps most significantly, in the way it confuses our decision-making and how it influences our enjoyment of the game. This article will consider why our tendency towards hindsight occurs and what we might be able to do to control its negative effects.
Hindsight bias is the tendency among humans to perceive past events or outcomes as having been more predictable than they, in fact, actually were. While some might consider this bias about as useful as the ‘remember me’ button in the Fantasy Football Scout Premium Member’s Area, it does in fact serve a purpose. Like most cognitive biases, hindsight as a phenomenon is born out of our evolution and the limitations of the human mind to cope with everything that our environments throw at it.
Because we are regularly bombarded with far more information than we can realistically process, our brains prioritise certain elements of it. Thus, we tend to recall more easily and attribute more importance to more recent events than ones further in the past. As a result, we find ourselves judging decisions in terms of their outcomes because this information is more easily accessible. Consequently, we tend to retrospectively consider this outcome information as being obvious all along, especially compared to whatever basis we were using to make our decision before the event took place.
Recency is not the only driver of hindsight bias however, surprise is also a trigger. When we are surprised by something, our life may depend on our brain quickly making sense of it, so it goes ahead and tries to do that. One unfortunate side-effect of this process is that it effectively neutralizes the ‘surprising’ element of the event in our subconscious, again making it seem like it was obvious all along and creating the somewhat perverse circumstance where, the more surprising an event is, the more we are likely to overestimate our chances of having foreseen it.
So, for example, when Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins (£6.5m) bangs in a hat-trick against Liverpool, our first response might be one of surprise, but this will be followed very quickly by our second response, which is to think of reasons why it might actually have been foreseeable.
The final driver of hindsight for this discussion is negativity. We are more likely to apply hindsight to negative outcomes than positive ones. This might partially be due to the emotional, mind-clouding influence that bad news can have on us, but it is also a hardwired survival mechanism. Whereas when something goes well for us, like our captain scoring a hat-trick, we can simply bask in the glory of our own FPL genius, when something goes wrong for us, our mind wants to make sense of it immediately so we can avoid it happening again. Of course, the easiest way to do that is to accept that what you now know was actually quite predictable.
Is all this a problem? Potentially, yes. If we start judging our decisions and the likelihood of events based on their outcomes, we risk polluting our decision-making process with less evidence-based or logical criteria. Instead of accepting that an unpredictable event was, indeed, unpredictable, we start to rely on unreliable factors, believing that they will help us foresee the unforeseeable. We don’t learn anything from this experience, or nothing of value at least, and we potentially become worse FPL managers as a result.
It can also be a problem with respect to our enjoyment of the game. There will, for example, have been plenty of people choosing between, say, Man City’s Riyad Mahrez (£8.1m) and Ferran Torres (£7.0m) ahead of their match against Newcastle in Gameweek 36. The logical decision based on current form, amount of rest and likelihood of starting was almost certainly Mahrez. The correct decision based on outcome was Torres, who outscored Mahrez by 20 points to zero.
So, while out of 100 decisions, the process that might have led to picking Mahrez will likely outperform the decision process that led to picking Torres, anyone who went for Mahrez will feel frustrated, rueful and negative about their ability as an FPL manager because they believe they should have known all along that Torres would start and score a hat-trick and Mahrez would blank entirely. Anyone who went for Torres, meanwhile, will feel like an FPL genius. Yet, based on this decision alone, neither would be entirely true. This event is an aberration which benefited some and not others.
Now, before anybody says anything, I am not saying that there was no skill involved in picking Torres or that his owners just got lucky. We are all, at this point, familiar with the art of ‘upside-chasing’. It is simply to say that one event was, objectively, more likely than the other and the fact that the outcome contradicted this assessment doesn’t, of itself, change that.
What can we do about hindsight bias?
The key to overcoming hindsight bias is learning to evaluate decisions based on their logic rather than their outcome. Rationally-speaking, the outcome should be irrelevant if the logic used in the decision-making process was sound.
Obviously, this is much easier said than done but one thing that makes it easier is to establish a criteria for making FPL decisions that you stick to and only change when necessary. Not only does this help ensure logic and consistency in decision-making, it allows you to evaluate and refine your process for making those decisions, something which will, over time, actually make you a better FPL manager.
This process may also help FPL managers overcome the negative feelings associated with hindsight bias but, if not, it can also help to consider how you might have come to the decision you didn’t make.
Using the example from above; to have chosen Torres over Mahrez, a manager would have had to have anticipated the following; Torres would start ahead of Mahrez despite having played City’s previous match (which was a loss in which Torres blanked) rather than Mahrez who was rested for that game entirely, that Torres would play more minutes than Mahrez, despite Mahrez having played around 600 minutes more than Torres this season and, finally, that Torres would outscore Mahrez, something which, by any measure, would have appeared unlikely prior to the match against Newcastle.
Engaging in this process can help you flip your brain back into evaluation mode and, while it might not stop you questioning other aspects of your game, such as your willingness to take bigger risks, it should at least help you avoid your hindsight bias convincing you that your decision was wrong based purely on the outcome.
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