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Grade Yourself! Are You Making Errors of Judgement?

Hello TSTers! This is my first post on this site, and I’d like to say how much I appreciate the community here. Living in New Zealand I don’t hear much about the NFL (alright I don’t hear anything about the NFL) so it’s great to be able to find fellow fans and good discussions online.

The aim of this post is to introduce readers to a number of mental errors that can affect our judgements. I feel this is an important subject since we spend large amounts of time discussing our judgements on the value and performance of players, units, and the Rams team and organisation as a whole. If we can avoid making these common errors our judgements will, hopefully, be more measured and accurate.

I’ve used Brandon Gibson as an example not to try to apologise for or support him but simply because I had to pick someone topical. Also, sorry for the length of the post but I couldn’t see anything to remove without confusing everything, and anyway it’s mid-week!

Heuristics

– are mental short-cuts people use to make complex judgements easier and quicker (but not always more accurate).

The availability heuristic is used to infer the frequency or likelihood of an event on the basis of how quickly examples come to mind. Where examples are readily available we tend to inflate the frequency or likelihood of the event. Many things can make an event more available including increased media coverage, attaching meaning or emotion to the event, or even bringing it to mind more often. For an example we can look at Gibson’s dropped catch in the redzone during the Bears game. This drop has seen significant coverage in media, has probably been linked to strong emotions from the loss, and has greater meaning because of where it happened both on the field and at the period of the game. These factors make that drop more available and can lead us to the judgement that Gibson drops passes frequently before we look for evidence and even in the face of contradictory evidence (this season at least his drops haven’t been frequent).

In making judgements we often need a starting point, an anchor, from which, and with which, we can adjust subsequent judgements. Anchoring and adjustment is a heuristic that ties judgements to initial standards. So, for example, in Gibson’s early seasons with the Rams he performed badly (in the regular season anyway). This performance then becomes an anchor from which we only make minor adjustments, despite any contradictory evidence. This is a sort of ‘first impressions are the most important’ effect and can also lead to people continuing to make positive judgements for a player who started off well but has slumped.

Attributions

– are explanations for the causes of events, which can affect our expectations for the future.

Two of the dimensions of attributions are locus and stability. Locus refers to whether we think the event was caused by the actor (internal) or by the situation (external). Stability refers to whether we think the internal or external cause can be changed or not. We can use Gibson’s drop on fourth down against the Bears for an example here. We can attribute the drop to Gibson (making it an internal attribution) or to the play of the opposing Bears corner (making it external). So we could say that Gibson is not a good ball catcher in traffic (internal and unchangeable) or that he needs to work on his catching strength (internal and changeable). We could also say that NFL corners are always going to jump that route (external and unchangeable) or that play was unusually well diagnosed by the corner (external and changeable).

These attributions have important consequences on what we expect in the future. If we make an internal unchangeable attribution we would never expect Gibson to perform well, but an internal changeable attribution is more positive. If we make an external unchangeable attribution we would, I guess, not ever want to pass the ball, but an external changeable attribution brings a more positive outlook and hopes of weaker opposition. It’s easy to see why sports psychologists take great care to instil the best attributions for both positive and negative events.

Although I’ve only used Gibson in the examples, it should be easy enough to see how these mental errors can creep into our judgements regarding everything from the performance of Sam Bradford, to the play calling, and even the decisions of the replacement referees. I hope this hasn’t been too boring, if you got to the end then congratulations! I’ll buy you a beer (if you make it to New Zealand).

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